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Full text of "George Meredith : some early appreciations"

GEORGE MEREDITH 

SOME EARLY APPRECIATIONS 



GEORGE MEREDITH 

SOME "EARLY APPRECIATIONS 



SELECTED BY 

MAURICE BUXTON FORMAN 



LONDON 

CHAPMAN Gf HALL, LTD. 
1909 






671367 



PREFACE 



THE twenty-three articles contained in this volume 
have been chosen from a collection of over one 
hundred as worthy of preservation in a form more 
accessible than that in which they originally ap- 
peared. For various reasons it has been necessary 
to withhold several interesting papers which I 
should like to have included; but those gathered 
here fairly represent critical judgment on George 
Meredith's writing from the year 1851, when his first 
book was published, till 1883, when he issued his 
" Poems and Lyrics of the Joy of Earth," the volume 
which immediately preceded "Diana of the Cross- 
ways " ; and it will hardly be disputed that these 
papers from a select band of Meredith's early 
admirers will help the Meredith student of to-day 
towards a better understanding of the last of the \J 
great Victorians. 

James Thomson, summarizing George Meredith's 
position in a review of the second edition of "The 
Ordeal of Richard Feverel," in May, 1879, spoke of 
"about thirty years' high-minded and miserably 
appreciated labour," and again, a few months later, 

v 



Preface 

referred to William Ernest Henley's article on " The 
Egoist " in Ttie AtJienaum * as "the first clear light " 
he had seen, the first public utterance on Meredith 
" evincing the critic's familiarity with all the writer's 
works." Had the author of that lurid poem " The 
City of Dreadful Night " and the magnificent ottava 
rima story of " Weddah and Om-El-Bonain " gone 
a little further afield in his search for what had 
been written about Meredith between 1851 and 1879, 
he could not have failed to be pleased on encounter- 
ing other notable Victorians who, like himself and 
Meredith, combined the offices of poet and critic. 
He would have discovered Richard Garnett, author 
of " lo in Egypt, and Other Poems," setting out to 
criticize " Fmilia in England " thus : " The an- 
nouncement of a new work by Mr. George Meredith 
is necessarily one to provoke much curiosity and 
expectation," an assertion which, coming from a 
man of Dr. Garnett's position in the world of 
letters, clearly indicates that George Meredith had 
even then his band of admirers, in spite of the 
undoubted fact that his books were " caviare to the 
general." The admirable " B. V." would have found 
in that band such practitioners of both prose and 
verse as William Michael Rossetti (still happily active 
among us), Marian Evans, gone before her time, 
and that supreme master of song-craft, Algernon 
Charles Swinburne, who so lately finished his 
splendid career with stately utterances in prose on 

* November I, 1879, p. 555. Extracts from this review are 
printed in " Views and Reviews," First Series, 1890. 

vi 



Preface 

"The Age of Shakespeare," and immediately pre- 
ceded Meredith to join the band of the immortals. 

From the nature of the present compilation it 
necessarily happens that the pleasant duty of acknow- 
ledging obligations extends to a considerable number 
of friends and correspondents. It will perhaps suffice 
to name specifically those who have done me the 
courtesy to accede to my request for authority to 
reprint the several papers in which copyright still 
exists ; and I accordingly thank heartily for this 
courtesy, Mr. W. M. Rossetti, Mr. Theodore Watts- 
Dunton as representative of the late Mr. Swinburne, 
Mr. Robert Singleton Garnett as his father's repre- 
sentative, Miss Elizabeth M. Roscoe and Mr. J. St. 
Loe Strachey in respect of the late Richard Holt 
Hutton's article, Mr. Bertram Dobell, Mr. William 
Reeves, and the Directors of Cope Brothers and 
Company, Limited, in regard to the essays of James 
Thomson ("B.V."), the editors of The Times, The 
Saturday Review, Tlte Morning Post, Tfie Daily 
News, and The Academy, and last, but not least, 
the proprietors of The Athencsum, without whose 
kind permission I must have omitted two papers 
which it seemed very desirable to include. To Mr. 
William Maxse Meredith, who has authorized me 
to reprint the poems by his father quoted in this 
volume, I have also to express my thanks. 

MAURICE BUXTON FORMAN. 



vii 



CONTENTS 

PAGE 

PREFACE ........ v 

I. WILLIAM MICHAEL ROSSETTI ON POEMS : 

1851 ........ 3 

II. CHARLES KINGSLEY ON POEMS : 1851 . . 14 
GEORGE ELIOT ON THE SHAVING OF 

SHAGPAT, IN THE LEADER ... 25 
IV. GEORGE ELIOT ON THE SHAVING OF 

SHAGPAT, IN THE WESTMINSTER REVIEW 38 
V. GEORGE ELIOT ON FARINA .... 43 
VI. THE TIMES ON THE ORDEAL OF RICHARD 

FEVEREL ..... . .51 

fL JAMES THOMSON ON THE ORDEAX, OF 



RICHARD FEVEREL cj-. C 7 i 
VIII. THE SATURDAY REVIEW ON EVAN HAR- 

RINGTON ....... 89 

IX. ALGERNON CHARLES SWINBURNE ON MODERN 

LOVE ........ 99 

RICHARD GARNETT ON EMILIA IN ENGLAND 107 
XI. THE SATURDAY REVIEW ON RHODA 

FLEMING ....... 119 

III) THE MORNING POST (MR. HUME) ON RHODA 

FLEMING ....... 129 

ix 




Contents 

PAGE 

THE SATURDAY REVIEW ON VITTORIA . .137 
GERALDINE ENDSOR JEWSBURY ON VITTORIA 146 
THE DAILY NEWS ON THE ADVENTURES OF 

HARRY RICHMOND 153 

XVI. RICHARD HOLT HUTTON ON THE ADVEN- 
TURES OF HARRY RICHMOND . . .157 
JAMES THOMSON ON BEAUCHAMP'S CAREER, 

IN COPE'S TOBACCO PLANT CeiLfcxu lok~iji 
XVIII. JAMES THOMSON ON BEAUCHAMP'S CAREER, 

IN THE SECULARIST 173 

XIX. WILLIAM ERNEST HENLEY ON THE EGOIST 191 
C3^ JAMES THOMSON ON THE EGOIST LotM^ I 194 
XXI. JOSEPH JACOBS ON THE TRAGIC COMEDIANS 209 
(?3^I. THE DAILY NEWS ON THE TRAGIC 

COMEDIANS 216 

XXIII. MARK PATTISON ON POEMS AND LYRICS OF 

THE JOY OF EARTH /tCdUA-^vvx^-, 221 

Q 



POEMS: 1851 



I 

WILLIAM MICHAEL ROSSETTI 

ON 

POEMS: 1851 

[This article appeared in The Critic, vol. x, no. 255, pp. 539-540, 
November 15, 1851, initialled W. M. R.] 

THE full poet is a thoroughly balanced compound 
of perception and intellect. By the first faculty he 
sees vividly, and feels to the inmost ; by the second, 
he understands deeply and largely, and applies with 
a subtle searching breadth. The power of expression 
is a correlative of both ; but it belongs more im- 
mediately to the first. Though Tennyson had not 
been the author in posse of " In Memoriam," he might 
equally have produced such perfect word-painting 
as we find in " Mariana " ; but a want of that per- 
ception which constitutes the essence of the latter 
would have made the former more faint from first 
to last. 

Of the perceptive poet we have had no other 
such complete example as Keats. It is the delight 
in what he sees, the sympathy with what he narrates, 
that endows him with his marvellous power of 
expression. To him everything was an opportunity. 

3 B 2 



William Michael Rossetti 



Yet he saw nature and emotion as rather suggestive 
than typical ; as exciting the thoughts outwards, 
not leading them inwards. His poems have but 
little of the unconscious simile, (to be found so 
largely in those of Tennyson for instance), the 
implication in description of an inner essence and 
ulterior meaning. Keats portrays his object with 
keen, exquisite picturing, but which aims only at the 
phenomenal fact ; or else he makes use of the simile 
direct. His enthusiasm was less an inner fire than 
a visible lambent halo. He saw loveliness in nature, 
or found it the incentive to lovely thoughts. He 
rested in the effect. " A thing of beauty is a joy 
for ever." 

Mr. Meredith seems to us a kind of limited 
Keats. He is scarcely a perceptive, but rather a 
seeing or sensuous poet He does not love nature 
in a wide sense as Keats did ; but nature delights 
and appeals closely to him. In proportion, however, 
as his sympathies are less vivid, excitable, and 
diffusive, he concentrates them the more. He 
appropriates a section of nature, as it were ; and the 
love which he bears to it partakes more of affection. 
Viewing Mr. Meredith as a Keatsian, and allowing 
for (what we need not stop to assert) the entire 
superiority of the dead poet, we think it is in this 
point that the most essential phase of difference will 
be found between the two ; and it is one which, were 
the resemblance in other respects more marked and 
more unmixed than it is, would suffice to divide Mr. 
Meredith from the imitating class. The love of 

4 



on Poems : 1851 

Keats for nature was not an affectionate love : it was 
minute, searching, and ardent, but hardly personal. 
He does not lose himself in nature, but contemplates 
her and utters her forth to the delight of all ages.* 
Indeed, if we read his record aright, he was not, 
either in thought or in feeling, a strongly affectionate 
man ; and the passion which ate into him at the last 
was a mania and infatuation, raging like disease, a 
symptom and a part of it. It is otherwise with 
Mr. Meredith. In his best moments he seems to 
sing because it comes naturally to him, and silence 
would be restraint, not through exuberance or inspi- 
ration, but in simple contentedness, or throbbing of 
heart. There is an amiable and engaging quality 
in the poems of Mr. Meredith, a human companion- 
ship and openness, which make the reader feel his 
friend. 

But, perhaps, it is chiefly in the impressions of 
love that our new poet's likeness and unlikeness at 
once to the author of " Endymion " and " Lamia " are 
to be recognized. We are told that women felt pique 
at Keats for treating them in his verses scarcely 
otherwise than flowers or perfumes ; as beaut ifiers 
and the object of tender and pleasurable emotion, 
a charm of life. They missed the language of indi- 
vidual love, dignified and equal. Nor was the 
quarrel without a cause ; but the reader will pro- 
bably, at the first reading of the very charming, 

* We hope it is superfluous to explain that, in what is here said of 
Keats, we seek only to discriminate, not to depreciate ; and that we 
love and reverence him as one of the most glorious of poets. W. M. R. 

5 



William Michael Rossetti 



melodious, and rhythmical poem which we proceed 
to quote, think us unfair in trying to fasten it on Mr. 
Meredith. 

LOVE IN THE VALLEY. 

" Under yonder beech-tree standing on the green sward, 

Couch'd with her arms behind her little head, 
Her knees folded up, and her tresses on her bosom, 

Lies my young love sleeping in the shade. 
Had I the heart to slide one arm beneath her ! 

Press her dreaming lips as her waist I folded slow, 
Waking on the instant she could not but embrace me 

Ah ! would she hold me, and never let me go ? 

" Shy as the squirrel, and wayward as the swallow ; 

Swift as the swallow when athwart the western flood 
Circleting the surface he meets his mirror'd winglets, 

Is that dear one in her maiden bud. 
Shy as the squirrel whose nest is in the pine tops ; 

Gentle ah ! that she were jealous as the dove ! 
Full of all the wildness of the woodland creatures, 

Happy in herself is the maiden that I love ! 

" What can have taught her distrust of all I tell her ? 

Can she truly doubt me when looking on my brows ? 
Nature never teaches distrust of tender love-tales, 

What can have taught her distrust of all my vows ? 
No, she does not doubt me ! on a dewy eve-tide 

Whispering together beneath the listening moon, 
I pray'd till her cheek flush'd, implored till she faltered 

Fluttered to my bosom ah ! to fly away so soon ! 

" When her mother tends her before the laughing mirror, 
Tying up her laces, looping up her hair, 
6 



on Poems : 1851 

Often she thinks were this wild thing wedded, 
I should have more love, and much less care. 

When her mother tends her before the bashful mirror, 
Loosening her laces, combing down her curls, 

Often she thinks were this wild thing wedded, 
I should lose but one for so many boys and girls. 

" Clambering roses peep into her chamber, 

Jasmine and woodbine, breathe sweet, sweet, 
White-necked swallows twittering of summer, 

Fill her with balm and nested peace from head to feet. 
Ah ! will the rose-bough see her lying lonely, 

When the petals fall and fierce bloom is on the leaves ? 
Will the Autumn garners see her still ungathered, 

When the fickle swallows forsake the weeping eaves ? 

11 Comes a sudden question should a strange hand pluck 

her! 

Oh ! what an anguish smites me at the thought, 
Should some idle lordling bribe her mind with jewels ! 

Can such beauty ever thus be bought ? 
Sometimes the huntsmen prancing down the valley 

Eye the village lasses, full of sprightly mirth ; 
They see as I see, mine is the fairest ! 
Would she were older and could read my worth ! 

" Are there not sweet maidens if she still deny me ? 

Show the bridal Heavens but one bright star ? 
Wherefore thus then do I chase a shadow, 

Clattering one note like a brown eve-jar ? 
So I rhyme and reason till she darts before me 
Thro' the milky meadows from flower to flower she 

flies, 

Sunning her sweet palms to shade her dazzled eyelids 
From the golden love that looks too eager in her eyes. 

7 



William Michael Rossetti 



" \Vhen at dawn she wakens, and her fair face gazes 

Out on the weather thro' the window panes, 
Beauteous she looks ! like a white water-lily 

Bursting out of bud on the rippled river plains. 
When from bed she rises clothed from neck to ankle 

In her long nightgown, sweet as boughs of May, 
Beauteous she looks ! like a tall garden lily 

Pure from the night and perfect for the day ! 

" Happy, happy time, when the grey star twinkles 

Over the fields all fresh with bloomy dew ; 
When the cold-cheek'd dawn grows ruddy up the 

twilight, 

And the gold sun wakes, and weds her in the blue. 
Then when my darling tempts the early breezes, 
She the only star that dies not with the dark ! 
Powerless to speak all the ardour of my passion 
I catch her little hand as we listen to the lark. 

" Shall the birds in vain then valentine their sweethearts ? 

Season after season tell a fruitless tale ; 
Will not the virgin listen to their voices ? 

Take the honey'd meaning, wear the bridal veil. 
Fears she frosts of winter, fears she the bare branches ? 

Waits she the garlands of spring for her dower ? 
Is she a nightingale that will not be nested 

Till the April woodland has built her bridal bower ? 

" Then come merry April with all thy birds and beauties ! 

With thy crescent brows and thy flowery, showery glee ; 
With thy budding leafage and fresh green pastures ; 
And may thy lustrous crescent grow a honeymoon for 
me ! 

8 



on Poems : 1851 

Come merry month of the cuckoo and the violet ! 

Come weeping Loveliness in all thy blue delight ! 
Lo ! the nest is ready, let me not languish longer ! 

Bring her to my arms on the first May night." 

Surely, it may be said, there is passion enough 
here, and of a sufficiently personal kind. True, 
indeed : this is not a devotion which sins through 
lukewarmth, and roams uncertain of an object. It 
will not fail to obtain an answer, through dubious- 
ness of quest : and if it shocks at all, it shocks the 
delicacy, not the amour-propre. But its characteristics 
are, in fact, the same as those at which exception 
was taken in the case of Keats. The flame burns 
here, which there only played, darting its thin, quick 
tongue from point to point : but the difference is of 
concentration only. The impressionable is changed 
for the strongly impressed the influence being 
similar. Here again the love, like our poet's love of 
nature, has the distinct tone of affection. It is purely 
and unaffectedly sensuous, and in its utterance as 
genuine a thing as can be. We hear a clear voice of 
nature, with no falsetto notes at all ; as spontaneous 
and intelligible as the wooing of a bird, and equally 
a matter of course. 

The main quality of Mr. Meredith's poems is 
warmth warmth of emotion, and, to a certain ex- 
tent, of imagination, like the rich' mantling blush on 
a beautiful face, or a breath glowing upon your 
cheek. That he is young will be as unmistakably 
apparent to the reader as to ourself ; on which score 
various shortcomings and crudities, not less than 

9 



William Michael Rossetti 



some excess of this attribute, claim indulgence. The 
"Rape of Aurora," for example, is certainly too 
highly coloured ; " Daphne " objectionably spun out, 
even if but in regard to length ; and " Angelic Love " 
other than angelic. The following, against which 
this plea cannot be urged, is a graceful and fitting 
companion to " Love in the Valley." 

SONG. 

" Under boughs of breathing May, 
In the mild spring time I lay, 
Lonely, for I had no love ; 

And the sweet birds all sang for pity, 
Cuckoo, lark, and dove. 

" Tell me, cuckoo, then I cried, 
Dare I woo and wed a bride ? 
I, like thee, have no home nest ; 

And the twin notes thus tuned their ditty, 
' Love can answer best.' 

" Nor warm dove with tender coo, 
Have I thy soft voice to woo, 
Even were a damsel by ; 

And the deep woodland croon'd its ditty, 
' Love her first and try.' 

" Nor have I, wild lark, thy wing, 
That from bluest heaven can bring 
Bliss, whatever fate befall ; 

And the sky lyrist trill'd this ditty, 
1 Love will give thee all.' 
IO 



on Poems: 1851 

" So it chanced while June was young, 
Wooing well with fervent song, 
I had won a damsel coy ; 

And the sweet birds that sang for pity, 
Jubileed for joy." 

Our last quotation displays Mr. Meredith in one 
of his more exclusively descriptive pieces. But we 
may observe that, here too, the emotion is what 
most distinctly impresses itself, while the description 
proper, though not wanting in precision and minute- 
ness, looms somewhat faintly. 

SONG. 

" The daisy now is out upon the green ; 
And in the grassy lanes 
The child of April rains, 
The sweet fresh-hearted violet is smelt and lov'd unseen. 

" Along the brooks and meads, the daffodil 
Its yellow richness spreads, 
And by the fountain heads 
Of rivers, cowslips cluster round, and over every hill. 

" The crocus and the primrose may have gone, 
The snowdrop may be low, 
But soon the purple glow 
Of hyacinths will fill the copse, and lilies watch the dawn. 

" And in the sweetness of the budding year, 
The cuckoo's woodland call, 
The skylark over all, 

And then at eve, the nightingale is doubly sweet and dear. 

II 



William Michael Rossetti 



" My soul is singing with the happy birds, 
And all my human powers 
Are blooming with the flowers, 

My foot is on the fields and downs, among the flocks and 
herds. 

" Deep in the forest where the foliage droops, 
I wander, fill'd with joy ! 
Again as when a boy, 
The sunny vistas tempt me on with dim delicious hopes. 

" The sunny vistas, dim with hanging shade, 
And old romantic haze : 
Again as in past days, 
The Spirit of immortal spring doth every sense pervade. 

" Oh ! do not say that this will ever cease ; 
This joy of woods and fields, 
This youth that nature yields, 

Will never speak to me in vain, tho' soundly rapt in 
peace." 

We have assigned Mr. Meredith to the Keatsian 
school, believing that he pertains to it in virtue of 
the more intrinsic qualities of his mind, and of a 
simple enjoying nature ; and as being beyond doubt 
of the perceptive class in poetry. In mere style, 
however, he attaches himself rather to the poets of 
the day: the pieces in which a particular bias is 
most evident being in a Tennysonian mould as the 
" Olive Branch," and the " Shipwreck of Idomeneus," 
while some of his smaller lyrics smack of Herrick. 
He has a good ear for melody, and considerable com- 
mand of rhythm ; but he seems sometimes to hanker 

12 



on Poems: i85i 



mduly after novelty of metre, attaining it, if there be 
10 other means to his hand, by some change in 
length or interruption of rhyme which has a dragging 
jind inconsequent effect. That his volume is young 
s not its fault ; nor are we by any means sure that 
t is its misfortune. Some jingle-pieces there are, in- 
deed, mere commonplace and current convention, 
which mature judgment would exclude : but the best 
are those whose spirit is the spirit of youth, and 
which are the fullest of it. We do not expect ever 
quite to enrol Mr. Meredith among the demigods or 
heroes ; and we hesitate, for the reason just given, 
to say that we count on greater things from him ; 
3ut we shall not cease to look for his renewed 
appearance with hope, and to hail it with extreme 
pleasure, so long as he may continue to produce 
poems equal to the best in this first volume. 



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II 

CHARLES KINGSLEY 

ON 

POEMS: 1851 

[This notice occurs in an article entitled "This Year's Song-Crop," 
which appeared in Prater's Magazine for Town and Country, vol. xliv., 
No. cclxiv., pp. 618-632, December, 1851. Mrs. Browning's "Casa 
Guidi Windows," " The Poems, Posthumous and Collected, of Thomas 
Lovell Beddoes," W. C. Roscoe's "Violenzia," and "Poetry, Sacred 
and Profane," by John Wright, were also reviewed in this article. The 
following extract comes between the section dealing with Beddoes's 
poems and that in which Kingsley invites his readers to laugh with 
him over Mr. Wright's book.] 

QUITE antipodal to the poems of Mr. Beddoes, and 
yet, in our eyes, fresh proofs of the truth of those 
rules which we have tried to sketch, are the poems 
of Mr. George Meredith. This, we understand, is his 
first appearance in print ; if it be so, there is very 
high promise in the unambitious little volume which 
he has sent forth as his first-fruits. It is something, to 
have written already some of the most delicious little 
love-poems which we have seen born in England in 
the last few years, reminding us by their richness 
and quaintness of tone of Herrick ; yet with a depth 
of thought and feeling which Herrick never reached. 
Health and sweetness are two qualities which run 

14 



Charles Kingsley on Poems : 1851 

through all these poems. They are often overloaded 
often somewhat clumsy and ill-expressed often 
wanting polish and finish ; but they are all genuine, 
all melodiously conceived, if not always melodiously 
executed. One often wishes, in reading the volume, 
that Mr. Meredith had been thinking now and then 
of Moore instead of Keats, and had kept for revision 
a great deal which he has published; yet now and 
then form, as well as matter, is nearly perfect. For 
instance : 

SONG. 

" The moon is alone in the sky 

As thou in my soul, 
The sea takes her image to lie 
Where the white ripples roll 
All night in a dream, 
With the light of her beam, 
Hushedly, mournfully, mistily up to the shore, 
The pebbles speak low, 
In the ebb and the flow, 

As I, when thy voice came at intervals, turned to adore : 
Nought other is heard, 
Save thy heart like a bird, 
Beating to bliss that is past evermore, evermore." 

SONG. 

"I cannot lose thee for a day, 

But like a bird with restless wing, 
My heart will find thee far away, 
And on thy bosom fall and sing, 
My nest is here, my rest is here ; 

15 



Charles Kingsley 



And in the lull of wind and rain, 
Fresh voices make a sweet refrain, 
' His rest is there, his nest is there.' 

" With thee the wind and sky are fair, 

But parted, both are strange and dark ; 
And treacherous the quiet air 
That holds me, singing like a lark, 

O shield my love, strong arm above ! 
'Till in the hush of wind and rain, 
Fresh voices make a rich refrain, 
' The arm above will shield thy love ! ' " 

In Mr. Meredith's Pastorals, too, there is a great 
deal of sweet wholesome writing, more like real 
pastorals than those of any young poet whom we 
have had for many a year. Let these suffice as 
specimens : 

"... See, on the river the slow-rippled surface 
Shining; the slow ripple broadens in circles; the bright 

surface smoothens ; 

Now it is flat as the leaves of the yet unseen water-lily. 
There dart the lives of a day, ever varying tactics fantastic, 
There, by the wet-mirror'd osiers, the emerald wing of the 

kingfisher 
Flashes, the fish in his beak ! there the dab-chick dived, and 

the motion 

Lazily undulates all thro' the tall standing army of rushes. 
O joy thus to revel all day, till the twilight turns us 

homeward ! 
'Till all the lingering, deep-blooming splendour of sunset 

is over, 

16 



" 



on Poems : 1851 

And the one star shines mildly in mellowing hues, like a 

spirit 
Sent to assure us that light never dieth, tho' day is now 

buried." 

Careless as hexameters ; but honest landscape- 
painting ; and only he who begins honestly ends 
greatly. 

LOVE IN THE VALLEY. 

" Under yonder beech-tree standing on the green sward, 

Couch'd with her arms behind her little head, 
Her knees folded up, and her tresses on her bosom, 

Lies my young love sleeping in the shade. 
Had I the heart to slide one arm beneath her ! 

Press her dreaming lips as her waist I folded slow, 
Waking on the instant she could not but embrace me 

Ah ! would she hold me, and never let me go ? 

" Shy as the squirrel, and wayward as the swallow ; 

Swift as the swallow when athwart the western flood 
Circleting the surface he meets his mirror'd winglets, 

Is that dear one in her maiden bud. 
Shy as the squirrel whose nest is in the pine tops ; 

Gentle ah ! that she were jealous as the dove ! 
Full of all the wildness of the woodland creatures, 

Happy in herself is the maiden that I love 1 

" When her mother tends her before the laughing mirror, 

Tying up her laces, looping up her hair, 
Often she thinks were this wild thing wedded, 
I should have more love, and much less care. 
When her mother tends her before the bashful mirror, 

Loosening her laces, combing down her curls, 
Often she thinks were this wild thing wedded, 
I should lose but one for so many boys and girls." 
17 C 



Charles Kingsley 



What gives us here hope for the future, as well as 
enjoyment on the spot, is, that these have evidently 
not been put together, but have grown of themselves ; 
and the one idea has risen before his mind, and 
shaped itself into a song ; not perfect in form, 
perhaps, but as far as it goes, healthful, and con- 
sistent, and living, through every branch and spray 
of detail. And this is the reason why Mr. Meredith 
has so soon acquired an instinctive melody, which 
Mr. Beddoes, as we saw, never could. To such a 
man, any light which he can gain from aesthetic 
science will be altogether useful. The living seed 
of a poem being in him, and certain to grow and 
develop somehow, the whole gardener's art may be 
successfully brought to bear on perfecting it For 
this is the use of aesthetic science to supply, not the 
bricklayer's trowel, but the hoe, which increases the 
fertility of the soil, and the pruning-knife, which 
lops off excrescences. For Mr. Meredith with real 
kindness we say it, for the sake of those love-poems 
has much to learn, and, as it seems to us, a spirit 
which can learn it ; but still it must be learnt One 
charming poem for instance, "Daphne" is all 
spoilt, for want of that same pruning-knife. We put 
aside the question whether a ballad form is suitable, 
not to the subject for to that, as a case of purely 
objective action, it is suitable, but to his half- 
Elegiac, thoughtful handling of it. Yet we recom- 
mend him to consider whether his way of looking at 
the Apollo and Daphne myth be not so far identical 
with Mr. Tennyson's idea of " Paris and CEnone," as 

18 



on Poems: 1851 

to require a similar Idyllic form, to give the thoughtful 
element its fair weight. If you treat external action 
merely (and in as far as you do so, you will really 
reproduce those old sensuous myths) you may keep 
the ballad form, and heap verse on verse as rapidly 
as you will ; but if you introduce any subjective 
thought, after the fashion of the Roman and later 
Greek writers, to explain the myth, and give it a 
spiritual, or even merely allegoric meaning, you must, 
as they did, slacken the pace of your verse. Let 
Ovid's Fasti and Epistles be your examples, at least 
in form, and write slowly enough to allow the reader 
to think as he goes on. The neglect of this rule 
spoilt the two best poems in Reverberations, 
"Balder," and "Thor," which, whatever were the 
faults of the rest of the book, were true and noble 
poems; and the neglect of it spoils "Apollo and 
Daphne." Mr. Meredith is trying all through to 
mean more than the form which he has chosen allows 
him. That form gives free scope to a prodigality of 
objective description, of which Keats need not have 
been ashamed ; but if he had more carefully studied 
the old models of that form from the simple Scotch 
ballads to Shakspeare's "Venus and Adonis" a 
ballad and not an idyl, he would have avoided Keats' 
fault of too-muchness, into which he has fallen. Half 
the poem would bear cutting out ; even half of those 
most fresh and living stanzas, where the whole wood- 
land springs into life to stop Daphne's flight where 

" Running ivies, dark and lingering, 
Round her light limbs drag and twine ; 

19 



Charles Kingsley 



Round her waist, with languorous tendrils 
Reels and wreathes the juicy vine, 
Crowning her with amorous clusters ; 
Pouring down her sloping back 
Fresh-born wines in glittering rillets, 
Following her in crimson track." 

Every stanza is a picture in itself, but there are 
too many of them ; and therefore we lose the story in 
the profusion of its accidentals. There is a truly 
Correggiesque tone of feeling and drawing all through 
this poem, which is very pleasant to us. But we 
pray Mr. Meredith to go to the National Gallery, 
and there look steadily and long, with all the analytic 
insight he can, at the " Venus and Mercury," or the 
" Agony in the Garden ; " or go to the Egyptian 
Hall, and there feast, not only his eyes and heart, 
but his intellect and spirit also, with Lord Ward's 
duplicate of the " Magdalen " the grandest Pro- 
testant sermon on " free justification by faith " ever 
yet preached ; and there see how Correggio can dare 
to indulge in his exquisite lusciousness of form, 
colour, and chiaro-'scuro, without his pictures ever 
becoming tawdry or overwrought namely, by the 
severe scientific unity and harmonious gradation of 
parts which he so carefully preserves, which make 
his pictures single glorious rainbows of precious 
stone that Magdalen one living emerald instead of 
being, like the jewelled hawk in the Great Exhi- 
bition, every separate atom of it beautiful, yet as 
a whole utterly hideous. 

One or two more little quarrels we have with Mr. 
20 



on Poems : 1851 

Meredith, and yet they are but amantium ires, after 
all. First, concerning certain Keatist words such 
as languorous, and innumerous, and such like, which 
are very melodious, but do not, unfortunately, belong 
to this our English tongue, their places being occu- 
pied already by old and established words ; as Mr. 
Tennyson has conquered this fault in himself, Mr. 
Meredith must do the same. Next, concerning 
certain ambitious metres, sound and sweet, but not 
thoroughly worked out, as they should have been. 
Mr. Meredith must always keep in mind that the 
species of poetry which he has chosen is one which 
admits of nothing less than perfection. We may 
excuse the roughness of Mrs. Browning's utterance, 
for the sake of the grandeur and earnestness of her 
purpose; she may be reasonably supposed to have 
been more engrossed with the matter than with the 
manner. But it is not so with the idyllist and lyrist. 
He is not driven to speak by a prophetic impulse ; 
he sings of pure will, and therefore he must sing 
perfectly, and take a hint from that microcosm, the 
hunting-field ; wherein if the hounds are running 
hard, it is no shame to any man to smash a gate 
instead of clearing it, and jump into a brook instead 
of over it. Forward he must get, by fair means if 
possible, if not, by foul. But if, like the idyllist, any 
gentleman "larks" his horse over supererogatory 
leaps at the coverside, he is not allowed to knock all 
four hoofs against the top bar ; but public opinion 
(who, donkey as she is, is a very shrewd old donkey, 
nevertheless, and clearly understands the difference 

21 



Charles Kingsley on Poems: 1851 

between thistles and barley) requires him to " come 
up in good form, measure his distance exactly, take 
off neatly, clear it cleverly, and come well into the next 
field" . . . And even so should idyllists with their 
metres. 



22 



THE SHAVING OF SHAGPAT 



Ill 

GEORGE ELIOT 

ON 

THE SHAVING OF SHAGPAT 

[From The Leader, vol. vii., no. 302, January 5, 1856, pp. 15-17.] 

No art of religious symbolism has a deeper root in 
nature than that of turning with reverence towards 
the East. For almost all our good things our most 
precious vegetables, our noblest animals, our loveliest 
flowers, our arts, our religious and philosophical ideas, 
our very nursery tales and romances, have travelled 
to us from the East. In an historical as well as in a 
physical sense, the East is the Land of the Morning. 
Perhaps the simple reason of this may be, that when 
the Earth first began to move on her axis her Asiatic 
side was towards the sun her Eastern cheek first 
blushed under his rays. And so this priority of sun- 
shine, like the first move in chess, gave the East the 
precedence, though not the pre-eminence, in all 
things ; just as the garden slope that fronts the 
morning sun yields the earliest seedlings, though 
those seedlings may attain a hardier and more 

25 



George Eliot 

luxuriant growth by being transplanted. But we 
leave this question to wiser heads 

" Felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas." 

(Excuse the novelty of the quotation.) We have not 
carried our reader's thoughts to the East that we may 
discuss the reason why we owe it so many good things, 
but that we may introduce him to a new pleasure, 
due, at least indirectly, to that elder region of the 
earth. We mean " The Shaving of Shagpat," which 
is indeed an original fiction just produced in this 
western island, but which is so intensely Oriental 
in its conception and execution, that the author has 
done wisely to guard against the supposition of its 
being a translation, by prefixing the statement that 
it is derived from no Eastern source, but is altogether 
his own. 

" The Shaving of Shagpat " is a work of genius, 
and of poetical genius. It has none of the tameness 
which belongs to mere imitations manufactured with 
servile effort, or thrown off with simious facility. It 
is no patchwork of borrowed incidents. Mr. Meredith 
has not simply imitated Arabian fictions, he has been 
inspired by them ; he has used Oriental forms, but 
only as an Oriental genius would have used them 
who had been " to the manner born." Goethe, when 
he wrote an immortal work under the inspiration of 
Oriental studies, very properly called it "West- 
ostliche " West-eastern because it was thoroughly 
Western in spirit, though Eastern in its forms. But 
this double epithet would not give a true idea of 

26 



on The Shaving of Shagpat 

Mr. Meredith's work, for we do not remember that 
throughout our reading we were once struck by an 
incongruity between the thought and the form, once 
startled by the intrusion of the chill north into the 
land of the desert and the palm. Perhaps more 
lynx-eyed critics, and more learned Orientalists, than 
we, may detect discrepancies to which we are blind, 
but our experience will at least indicate what is 
likely to be the average impression. In one particular, 
indeed, Mr. Meredith differs widely from his models, 
but that difference is a high merit: it lies in the 
exquisite delicacy of his love incidents and love 
scenes. In every other characteristic in exuberance 
of imagery, in picturesque wildness of incident, in sig- 
nificant humour, in aphoristic wisdom, " The Shaving 
of Shagpat " is a new Arabian Night. To two-thirds 
of the reading world this is sufficient recommendation. 
According to Oriental custom the main story of 
the book The Shaving of Shagpat forms the 
setting to several minor tales, which are told, on 
pretexts more or less plausible, by the various 
dramatis persona. We will not forestall the reader's 
pleasure by telling him who Shagpat was, or what 
were the wondrous adventures through which Shibli 
Bagarag, the wandering barber, became Master of 
the Event and the destroyer of illusions, by shaving 
from Shagpat the mysterious identical which had 
held men in subjection to him. There is plenty of 
deep meaning in the tale for those who cannot be 
satisfied without deep meanings, but there is no 
didactic thrusting forward of moral lessons, and our 

27 



George Eliot 

imagination is never chilled by a sense of allegorical 
intention predominating over poetic creation. Nothing 
can be more vivid and concrete than the narrative 
and description, nothing fresher and more vigorous 
than the imagery. Are we reading how horsemen 
pursued their journey? We are told that they 
"flourished their lances with cries, and jerked their 
heels into the flanks of their steeds, and stretched 
forward till their beards were mixed with the tossing 
manes, and the dust rose after them crimson in the 
sun." Is it a maiden's eyes we are to see? They 
are "dark, under a low arch of darker lashes, like 
stars on the skirts of storm." Sometimes the images 
are exquisitely poetical, as when Bhanavar looks 
forth "on the stars that were above the purple 
heights and the blusJies of inner heaven that streamed 
up the sky;" sometimes ingenious and pithy; for 
example, "she clenched her hands an instant with 
that feeling which knocketh a nail in the coffin of 
a desire not dead." Indeed, one of the rarest charms 
of the book is the constant alternation of passion and 
wild imaginativeness with humour and pithy, practical 
sense. Mr. Meredith is very happy in his imitation 
of the lyrical fragments which the Eastern tale-tellers 
weave into their narrative, either for the sake of giving 
emphasis to their sententiousness, or for the sake of 
giving a more intense utterance to passion, a loftier 
tone to description. We will quote a specimen of 
the latter kind from the story of "Bhanavar the 
Beautiful." This story is the brightest gem among 
the minor tales, and perhaps in the whole book. It 

28 



on The Shaving of Shagpat 

is admirably constructed and thoroughly poetic in 
its outline and texture. 

" Bhanavar gazed on her beloved, and the bridal dew 
overflowed her underlids, and she loosed her hair to let it 
flow, part over her shoulders, part over his, and in sighs 
that were the measure of music she sang 

" ' I thought not to love again ! 

But now I love as I loved not before ; 
I love not : I adore ! 

O my beloved, kiss, kiss me ! waste thy kisses like a rain. 
Are not thy red lips fain ? 
Oh, and so softly they greet ! 
Am I not sweet ? 
Sweet must I be for thee, or sweet in vain : 

Sweet to thee only, my dear love 1 
The lamps and censers sink, but cannot cheat 
Those eyes of thine that shoot above, 
Trembling lustres of the dove ! 
A darkness drowns all lustres : still I see 

Thee, my love, thee ! 

Thee, my glory of gold, from head to feet 1 
Oh, how the lids of the world close quite when our lips 
meet ! ' 

" Almeryl strained her to him, and responded : 

" ' My life was midnight on the mountain side ; 

Cold stars were on the heights : 
There, in my darkness, I had lived and died, 

Content with little lights. 
Sudden I saw the heavens flush with a beam, 

And I ascended soon, 
And evermore over mankind supreme 
Stood silver in the moon.' 
29 



George Eliot 

" And he fell playfully into a new metre, singing : 

" ' Who will paint my beloved 

In musical word or colour ? 
Earth with an envy is moved : 

Sea-shells and roses she brings, 

Gems from the green ocean-springs, 

Fruits with the fairy bloom-dews, 

Feathers of Paradise hues, 

Waters with jewel-bright falls, 

Ore from the Genii-halls : 
All in their splendour approved ; 
All ; but, match'd with my beloved, 

Darker, denser, and duller.' 

" Then she kissed him for that song, and sang : 

" ' Once to be beautiful was my pride, 

And I blush'd in love with my own bright brow. 
Once, when a wooer was by my side, 

I worship'd the object that had his vow : 
Different, different, different now, 

Different now is my beauty to me : 
Different, different, different now ! 

For I prize it alone because prized by thee.' 

" Almeryl stretched his arm to the lattice, and drew it 
open, letting in the soft night wind, and the sound of the 
fountain and the bulbul and the beam of the stars, and 
versed to her in the languor of deep love : 

" ' Whether we die or we live 
Matters it now no more ; 
Life has nought further to give : 
Love is its crown and its core. 
Come to us either, we're rife, 
Death or life ! 
30 



on The Shaving of Shagpat 

" ' Death can take not away, 

Darkness and light are the same : 
We are beyond the pale ray, 

Wrapt in a rosier flame ; 
Welcome which will to our breath, 
Life or death ! ' " 

An example of Mr. Meredith's skill in humorous 
apologue is the "Punishment of Khipil the Builder," 
which is short enough to be quoted without much 
mutilation : 

" They relate that Shahpesh, the Persian, commanded 
the building of a palace, and Khipil was his builder. The 
work lingered from the first year of the reign of Shahpesh 
even to his fourteenth. One day Shahpesh went to the 
river-side, where it stood, to inspect it. Khipil was sitting 
on a marble slab among the stones and blocks ; round him 
stretched lazily the masons and stonecutters and slaves of 
burden ; and they with the curve of humorous enjoyment 
on their lips, for he was reciting to them adventures, inter- 
spersed with anecdotes and recitations and poetic instances, 
as was his wont. They were like pleased flocks whom the 
shepherd hath led to a pasture freshened with brooks, 
there to feed indolently ; he, the shepherd, in the midst. 

" Now the King said to him, ' O Khipil, show me my 
palace where it standeth, for I desire to gratify my sight 
with its fairness.' 

" Khipil abased himself before Shahpesh, and answered, 
c 'Tis even here, O King of the age, where thou delightest 
the earth with thy foot, and the ear of thy slave with sweet- 
ness. Surely a site of vantage, one that dominateth earth, 
air, and water, which is the builder's first and chief requisi- 
tion for a noble palace, a palace to fill foreign kings and 

31 



George Eliot 

sultans with the distraction of envy ; and it is, O Sovereign 
of the time, a site, this site I have chosen, to occupy the 
tongues of travellers and awaken the flights of poets ! ' 

" Shahpesh smiled and said, c The site is good ! I laud 
the site ! Likewise I laud the wisdom of Ebn Busrac, 
where he exclaims : 

" ' Be sure, where Virtue faileth to appear, 
For her a gorgeous mansion men will rear ; 
And day and night her praises will be heard, 
Where never yet she spake a single word.' 

" Then said he, c O Khipil, my builder, there was once 
a farm-servant that, having neglected in the seed-time to 
sow, took to singing the richness of his soil when it was 
harvest, in proof of which he displayed the abundance of 
weeds that coloured the land everywhere. Discover to me 
now the completeness of my halls and apartments, I pray 
thee, O Khipil, and be the excellence of thy construction 
made visible to me.' 

" Quoth Khipil, ' To hear is to obey.' 

" He conducted Shahpesh among the unfinished saloons 
and imperfect courts and roofless rooms, and by half-erected 
obelisks, and columns pierced and chipped, of the palace of 
his building. And he was bewildered at the words spoken 
by Shahpesh ; but now the King exalted him, and admired 
the perfection of his craft, the greatness of his labour, the 
speediness of his construction, his assiduity, feigning not to 
behold his negligence. 

" Presently they went up winding balusters to a marble 
terrace, and the King said, ' Such is thy devotion and con- 
stancy to toil, O Khipil, that thou shall walk before me 
here.' 

" He then commanded Khipil to precede him, and 
Khipil was heightened with the honour. When Khipil had 

32 



on The Shaving of Shagpat 

paraded a short space he stopped quickly, and said to 
Shahpesh, ' Here is, as it chanceth, a gap, O King ! and we 
can go no further this way.' 

" Shahpesh said, ' All is perfect, and it is my will thou 
delay not to advance.' 

" Khipil cried, c The gap is wide, O mighty King, and 
manifest, and it is the one incomplete part of thy palace.' 

" Then said Shahpesh, ' O Khipil, I see no distinction 
between one part and another ; excellent are all parts in 
beauty and proportion, and there can be no part incomplete 
in this palace that occupieth the builder fourteen years in 
its building : so advance, and do my bidding.' 

" Khipil yet hesitated, for the gap was of many strides, 
and at the bottom of the gap was a deep water, and he one 
that knew not the motion of swimming. But Shahpesh 
ordered his guard to point their arrows in the direction of 
Khipil, and Khipil stepped forth hurriedly, and fell into 
the gap, and was swallowed by the water below. When he 
rose the third time succour reached him, and he was drawn 
to land trembling, his teeth chattering. 

" And Shahpesh praised him, and said, ' This is an apt 
contrivance for a bath, Khipil, O my builder! well con- 
ceived; one that taketh by surprise; and it shall be thy 
reward daily when much talking hath fatigued thee.' 

" Then he bade Khipil lead him to the hall of state. 
And when they were there Shahpesh said, ' For a privilege, 
and as a mark of my approbation, I give thee permission 
to sit in the marble chair of yonder throne, even in my 
presence, O Khipil.' 

" Khipil said, ' Surely, O King, the chair is not yet 
executed.' 

" And Shahpesh exclaimed, ' If this be so, thou art 
but the length of thy measure on the ground, O talkative 
one!' 

33 D 



George Eliot 

" Khipil said, c Nay, 'tis not so, O King of splendours ! 
blind that I am ! yonder's indeed the chair.' 

"And Khipil feared the King, and went to the place 
where the chair should be, and bent his body in a sitting 
posture, eyeing the King, and made pretence to sit in the 
chair of Shahpesh. 

" Then said Shahpesh, ' As a token that I approve thy 
execution of the chair, thou shall be honoured by remaining 
seated in it one day and one night ; but move thou to the 
right or to the left, showing thy soul insensible of the 
honour done thee, transfixed shalt thou be with twenty 
arrows and five.' 

" The King then left him with a guard of twenty-five of 
his body-guard; and they stood around him with bent 
bows, so that Khipil dared not move from his sitting 
posture. And the masons and the people crowded to see 
Khipil sitting on his master's chair, for it became rumoured 
about. When they beheld him sitting upon nothing, and 
he trembling to stir for fear of the loosening of the arrows, 
they laughed so that they rolled upon the floor of the hall, 
and the echoes of laughter were a thousandfold. Surely 
the arrows of the guard swayed with the laughter that shook 
them. 

" Now, when the time had expired for his sitting in the 
chair, Shahpesh returned to him, and he was cramped, 
pitiable to see ; and Shahpesh said, c Thou hast been 
exalted above men, O Khipil ! for that thou didst execute 
for thy master has been found fitting for thee.' 

"Then he bade Khipil lead the way to the noble 
gardens of dalliance and pleasure that he had planted and 
contrived. And Khipil went in that state described by the 
poet, when we go draggingly, with remonstrating members 

" ' Knowing a dreadful strength behind 
And a dark fate before.' 

34 



on The Shaving of Shagpat 

" They came to the gardens, and behold, they were full 
of weeds and nettles, the fountains dry, no tree to be seen 
a desert. And Shahpesh cried, ' This is indeed of 
admirable design, O Khipil ! Feelest thou not the coolness 
of the fountains? their refreshingness ? Truly I am 
grateful to thee ! And these flowers, pluck me now a 
handful, and tell me of their perfume.' 

" Khipil plucked a handful of the nettles that were there 
in the place of flowers, and put his nose to them before 
Shahpesh till his nose was reddened ; and desire to rub it 
waxed in him, and possessed him, and became a passion, 
so that he could scarce refrain from rubbing it even in the 
King's presence. And the King encouraged him to sniff 
and enjoy their fragrance, repeating the poet's words 

" ' Methinks I am a lover and a child, 
A little child and happy lover, both ! 
When by the breath of flowers I am beguiled 
From sense of pain, and lull'd in odorous sloth. 
So I adore them, that no mistress sweet 
Seems worthier of the love that they awake : 
In innocence and beauty more complete, 
Was never maiden cheek in morning lake. 
Oh, while I live, surround me with fresh flowers ! 
Oh, when I die, then bury me in their bowers ! ' 

" And the King said, * What sayest thou, O my builder ? 
that is a fair quotation, applicable to thy feelings, one that 
expresseth them ? ' 

" Khipil answered, c 'Tis eloquent, O great King ! Com- 
prehensiveness would be its portion, but that it alludeth 
not to the delight of chafing.' 

" Then Shahpesh laughed, and cried, c Chafe not ! it is 
an ill thing and a hideous ! This nosegay, O Khipil, is for 

35 



George Eliot 

thee to present to thy mistress. Truly she will receive 
thee well after its presentation ! I will have it now sent in 
thy name, with word that thou followest quickly. And for 
thy nettled nose, surely if the whim seize thee that thou 
desirest its chafing, to thy neighbour is permitted what to 
thy hand is refused.' 

" So the King set a guard upon Khipil to see that his 
orders were executed, and appointed a time for him to 
return to the gardens. 

" At the hour indicated Khipil stood before Shahpesh 
again. He was pale, saddened ; his tongue drooped like 
the tongue of a heavy bell, that when it soundeth giveth 
forth mournful sounds only : he had also the look of one 
battered with many beatings. So the King said, 'How 
of thy presentation of the flowers of thy culture, O 
Khipil?' 

" He answered, ' Surely, O King, she received me with 
wrath, and I am shamed by her.' 

"And the King said, 'How of my clemency in the 
matter of the chafing ? ' 

" Khipil answered, ' O King of splendours ! I made 
petition to my neighbours whom I met, accosting them 
civilly and with imploring, for I ached to chafe, and it was 
the very raging thirst of desire to chafe that was mine, 
devouring intensity of eagerness for solace of chafing. 
And they chafed me, O King ; yet not in those parts which 
throbbed for the chafing, but in those which abhorred it.' 

"Then Shahpesh smiled and said, "Tis certain that 
the magnanimity of monarchs is as the rain that falleth, 
the sun that shineth : and in this spot it fertilizeth richness ; 
in that encourageth rankness. So art thou but a weed, O 
Khipil ! and my grace is thy chastisement.' " 

We hope we have said, if not enough to do justice 
36 



on The Shaving of Shagpat 

to " The Shaving of Shagpat," enough to make our 
readers desire to see it. They will find it, compared 
with the other fictions which the season has provided, 
to use its own Oriental style, " as the apple-tree among 
the trees of the wood." 



37 



IV 
GEORGE ELIOT 

ON 

THE SHAVING OF SHAGPAT 

[The following short extract is taken from " Art and Belles Lettres" 
in The Westminster Review (vol. Ixv., No. cxviii.)> New Series, vol. ix., 
No. ii., pp. 625-650, April, 1856, an article which also contained 
among many short notices reviews of the third volume of Ruskin's 
" Modem Painters," Wilkie Collins's " After Dark," and Kingsley's 
11 The Heroes," and a reference to and quotation from Walt Whitman's 
"Leaves of Grass." "The Shaving of Shagpat" passage occurs 
on pp. 638-639.] 

WE turn from the art which most of us must leave 
our homes to get even a glimpse of, to that which 
has at least the advantage of visiting us at our own 
firesides the art of the romancer and the novelist ; 
and the first work of fiction that presents itself 
as worth notice is "The Shaving of Shagpat," an 
admirable imitation of Oriental tale-telling, which has 
given us far more pleasure than we remember to have 
had even in younger days from reading " Vathek " 
the object of Byron's enthusiastic praise. Of course 
the great mass of fictions are imitations more or less 
slavish and mechanical imitations of Scott, of Balzac, 
of Dickens, of Currer Bell, and the rest of the real 
" makers " ; every great master has his school of 

38 



George Eliot on The Shaving of Shagpat 

followers, from the kindred genius down to the feeble 
copyist. " The Shaving of Shagpat " is distinguished 
from the common run of fictions, not in being an 
imitation, but in the fact that its model has been 
chosen from no incidental prompting, from no wish 
to suit the popular mood, but from genuine love and 
mental affinity. Perhaps we ought to say that it is 
less an imitation of the " Arabian Nights " than a 
similar creation inspired by a thorough and admiring 
study. No doubt, if a critical lens were to be 
applied, there would be found plenty of indications 
that the writer was born in Western Europe, and in 
the nineteenth century, and that his Oriental imagery 
is got by hearsay; but to people more bent on 
enjoying what they read than on proving their acumen, 
" The Shaving of Shagpat " will be the thousand and 
second night which they perhaps longed for in their 
childhood. The author is alive to every element 
in his models ; he reproduces their humour and 
practical sense as well as their wild imaginativeness. 
Shibli Bagarag, the barber, carries a great destiny 
within him : he is to shave Shagpat the clothier, and 
thus to become Master of the Event. The city of 
Shagpat, unlike the city of London, regards shaving, 
and not the beard, as the innovation ; and Shagpat is 
a " miracle of hairiness, black with hair as he had 
been muzzled with it, and his head, as it were, a berry 
in a huge bush by reason of it," and when the 
countenance of Shagpat waxed fiery it was as "a 
flame kindled by travellers at night in a bramble 
bush, and he ruffled and heaved, and was as when 

39 



George Eliot on The Shaving of Shagpat 

dense jungle-growths are stirred violently by the near 
approach of a wild animal." Moreover, among the 
myriad hairs of Shagpat is the mysterious " Identical," 
which somehow holds the superstition of men in 
bondage, so that they bow to it without knowing 
why the most obstinate of all bowing, as we are 
aware. Hence he who will shave Shagpat, and 
deliver men from worshipping his hairy mightiness, 
will deserve to be called Master of the Event ; 
and the story of all the adventures through which 
Shibli Bagarag went before he achieved this great 
work the thwackings he endured, the wondrous 
scenes he beheld, and the dangers he braved to 
possess himself of the magic horse Garaveen, the Lily 
of the Enchanted Sea, and other indispensable things, 
with his hairbreadth escapes from spiteful genii all 
this forms the main action of the book. Other tales 
are introduced, serving as pleasant landing places on 
the way. The best of these is the story of Khipil 
the Builder, a humorous apologue, which will please 
readers who are unable to enjoy the wilder imagi- 
nativeness of Oriental fiction ; but lovers of the 
poetical will prefer the story of Bhanavar the Beauti- 
ful. We confess to having felt rather a languishing 
interest towards the end of the work ; the details of 
the action became too complicated, and our imagina- 
tion was rather wearied in following them. But where 
is the writer whose wing is as strong at the end of 
his flight as at the beginning? Even Shakespeare 
flags under the artificial necessities of a denouement. 



FARINA: A LEGEND OF 
COLOGNE 



GEORGE ELIOT 

ON 

FARINA' /-m 

[This review forms part of the article on " Belles Lettres and Art " 
in The Westminster Review (vol. Ixviii., No. cxxxiv.), New Series, 
vol. xii., No. ii., October, 1851, pp. 585-604. Alexander Smith's 
"City Poems," Moxon's edition of Tennyson's "Poems," illustrated 
by Millais, Rossetti, Holman Hunt, and others, "The Elements of 
Drawing," by John Ruskin, Anthony Trollope's " Barchester Towers," 
and Flaubert's "Madame Bovary," were, with a number of other 
books, treated in this article. The following passage appears on 
PP. 597-599-] 

THE author of " Farina " has exposed himself to a 
somewhat trying ordeal. Last year he treated us 
to a delightful volume of well-sustained Oriental 
extravagance, and we remember our friend Shibli 
Bagarag too well to be easily satisfied with any hero 
less astonishing. It was refreshing to leave the 
actual and the probable for a time, and follow Mr. 
Meredith's lead into the bright world of imagination. 
The hope of such another enchanted holiday pre- 
pared us to welcome his new tale with all due honour 
and cordiality. It was with something like disap- 
pointment, therefore, that we found ourselves brought 
down to the vulgar limits of time and place, and our 

43 



George Eliot 

appetite for the marvellous entirely spoilt by scenes 
which challenge prosaic considerations of historical 
truth and the fitness of things. The title, " Farina : 
a Legend of Cologne," will naturally carry the 
reader's mind to those ungainly-shaped bottles, with 
which the British tourist is sure to return laden from 
the city of evil smells. Mr. Meredith is pleased to 
bestow a high antiquity on the famous distillation, 
and his hero, doubtless the first of all the Jean 
Maries, is invested with the dubious honours of a 
dealer in the black art, on account of his suspicious 
collection of bottles and vases, pipes and cylinders. 
But when the Devil is beaten in single combat on 
the Drachenfels, and returns from whence he came, 
entering to his kingdom under the Cathedral Square, 
and leaving behind him a most abominable stench, 
Farina's perfumed water does good service. The 
Kaiser, six times driven back by the offence to his 
nostrils, is enabled to enter the good city of Cologne, 
and then and there reward the restorer of a pure 
atmosphere with the hand of his long-loved bride. 
For the rest, the story is sufficiently slight. We 
have the blonde and bewitching heroine, Margarita, 
and her troop of lovers, who prove their devotion by 
such strenuous interchange of blows in her honour, 
that there is not one of them who is not black and 
blue ; and we have the lover, Farina, tender and true, 
brave as Siegfried, and worshipping his " Frankinne " 
with such fanatical homage as " Conrad the Pious " 
might have sung. Margarita's father, Gottlieb Gro- 
schen, the rich Cologne citizen, is a characteristic 

44 



on Farina 

specimen of the prosperous mediaeval Rhinelander, 
and we cannot give our readers a more favourable 
specimen of Mr. Meredith's style than by introducing 
the father and daughter, engaged in receiving that 
nuisance of the middle as of all ages morning 
visitors : 

" A clatter in the Cathedral Square brought Gottlieb on 
his legs to the window. It was a company of horsemen 
sparkling in harness. One trumpeter rode on the side of 
the troop, and in front a standard-bearer, matted down the 
chest with ochre beard, displayed aloft to the good citizens 
of Cologne, three brown hawks, with birds in their beaks, 
on an azure star-dotted field. ' Holy Cross ! ' exclaimed 
Gottlieb, low in his throat, ' the arms of Werner ! Where 
got he money to mount his men ? Why, this is daring all 
Cologne in our very teeth ! 'Fend that he visit me now ! 
Ruin smokes in that ruffian's track. I've felt hot and cold 
by turns all day.' The horsemen came jingling carelessly 
along the street in scattered twos and threes, laughing 
together, and singling out the maidens at the gable- 
shadowed window with hawking eyes. They were in truth 
ferocious-looking fellows. Leather, steel, and dust, clad 
them from head to foot; big and black as bears; wolf- 
eyed, fox-nosed. They glistened bravely in the falling 
beams of the sun, and Margarita thrust her fair braided 
yellow head a little forward over her father's shoulder, to 
catch the whole length of the grim cavalcade. One of the 
troop was not long in discerning the young beauty." 

They come to the door with a " thundering smack," 
and one is perforce admitted : 

" Margarita heard ' wafted in a thunder of oaths,' ' 'Tis 
the maiden we want ; let's salute her and begone ! or cap 

45 



George Eliot 

your skull with something thicker than you've on it now, if 
you want a whole one, happy father ! ' ' Gottlieb von 
Groschen, I am,' answered her father, ' and the Kaiser ' 
' 'Sas fond of a pretty girl as we are ! Down with her, 
and no more drivelling ! It's only for a moment, old 
Measure and Scales ! ' 'I tell you, rascals, I know your 
master, and if you're not punished for this, may I die a 
beggar ! ' exclaimed Gottlieb, jumping with rage. ' May 
you die as rich as an abbot ! And so you will, if you don't 
bring her down, for I've sworn to see her, there's the end 
of it, man!'" 

Fearing violence to her father, Margarita comes 
down ; her brutal admirer explains : 

" ' I'm no ninny, and not to be diddled ; I'll talk to the 
young lady ! Silence out there ! all's going proper ; ' this 
to his comrades through the door. 'So, my beautiful 
maiden ! thus it stands. We saw you at the window, look- 
ing like a fresh rose with a gold crown on. ... c Schwartz 
Thier ! ' says Henker Rothhals to me, ' I'll wager you odds 
you don't have a kiss of that fine girl within twenty 
minutes counting from the hard smack ! ' ' Done,' was my 
word, and we clapped our fists together. Now, you see, 
that's straightforward ! ' " 

How Margarita escapes this indignity, how she 
becomes the captive of the terrible Werner himself, 
and how she is rescued, we have not space to tell ; 
much clever and vigorous description is to be found 
in the narrative, and Mr. Meredith has been very 
successful in setting before us a vivid picture of the 
coarse, rough manners, the fierce, warlike habits, and 
the deep-seated superstition of the " good old times " 

46 



on Farina 

of chivalry. The character of the jovial Squire Guy 
the Goshawk, is especially well done. As a whole, 
we think " Farina " lacks completeness, and the 
ghostly element is* not well worked in. The combat 
between Saint Gregory and the Devil is made 
ludicrous by its circumstantiality. It was not as a 
jeering satirist that the old monkish legends set forth 
Sathanas, and there is a clumsiness in the whole 
affair which accords ill with the boldness and skill 
displayed in other portions of the tale. We must 
also protest against Father Gregory's use of the 
nominative case " ye " instead of the accusative " you," 
monk though he be, and privileged doubtless to speak 
bad grammar at will ; nor can we admire many 
passages, in which the author has sacrificed euphony, 
and almost sense, to novelty and force of expression. 
With these blemishes, " Farina " is both an original 
and an entertaining book, and will be read with 
pleasure by all who prefer a lively, spirited story to 
those dull analyses of dull experiences in which the 
present school of fiction abounds. 



47 



THE ORDEAL OF RICHARD 
FEVEREL 



VI 

THE TIMES 

ON 

THE ORDEAL OF RICHARD FEVEREL 

[From The Times, No. 23,437, October 14, 1859, p. 5.] 

THE writer of an extraordinary novel must expect 
a more than ordinarily strict criticism. It is a 
compliment to him and a duty to the public. A 
compliment to him, because, notwithstanding his 
offences, he is treated with the attention due to a 
superior artist. A duty to the public, because, not- 
withstanding his effectiveness, it is requisite, for the 
sake of heedless or incompetent readers, to indicate, 
if we can, his artistic deficiencies. But there is 
unusual difficulty in performing a critic's duty upon 
this occasion. Mr. Meredith is an original writer, 
and his book is a powerful book, penetrative in its 
depth of insight, and rich in its variety of experience. 
But it is also very oracular and obscure in parts, and, 
as we conceive, extremely weak in the development 
of its main purpose. On the other hand, it is so 
crystalline and brilliant in its principal passages, 
there is such purity mingled with its laxness, such 
sound and firm truth in the midst of its fantastic 

51 E 2 



The Times 

subtleties, that we hesitate whether to approve or 
condemn ; and we have a difficulty even in forming 
a judgment on such strange contrarieties. 

Let us premise that Mr. Meredith belongs to a 
class of fictionists who are more rare than welcome 
more honoured than popular. There are two classes 
of novelists (apart from the simious tribe, who are 
mere meaningless imitators), and Mr. Meredith is of 
the humourist class, which draws its presentment of 
mankind in a large degree from its inner conscious- 
ness, while the other class paints life phenomenally, 
as the majority would see it. The distinction hardly 
holds, in an absolute sense, as separating rigidly the 
one class from the other; but it is a distinction 
which applies more or less in every instance in which 
a fictionist is entitled to be characterised at all. The 
humourist draws more from his humour than from 
obvious facts from his modes of thought than from 
the manners of his time. He spins his web, like the 
spider, out of his own bowels, instead of gathering 
his materials here and there and building them up 
like the ant. The opposite class, among whom are 
the Shakspeares and Scotts, are more expansive in 
their conceptions, and, concurrently, more dependent 
on externals for their means. The humourist take 
even Rabelais, for example is subjective, self-search- 
ing, self-evolved and sustained ; he is a stronger 
solvent of his secret pabulum, whatever that may be, 
and he hangs on the gauzy films of his own imagina- 
tion. His task is obviously more arduous, for he 
relies so much on himself; and his success is 

52 



on The Ordeal of Richard Feverel 

proportionate to the power which is in him. But his 
success is not a popular success, for it is personal 
and distinctive ; nor can he be tried by popular tests 
which are the devices of the average mind. Now 
Mr. Meredith belongs to the latter class more exclu- 
sively than most novelists, and his characters are 
more entirely symbols and shadows of his thought 
than ordinary everyday denizens of the world about 
him. It would be unfair to try him by the standard 
relations of novels to life ; for, as a humourist, he 
conceives humourists, and includes them in a world 
of his own shaping. 

But it is fair and appropriate to try if his world 
holds together on its own principles, and, with this 
view, to question the plan and object of its creation. 
We are not certain that we fully understand its 
object in the present case, and this may be our fault. 
Is it, however, really our fault, or Mr. Meredith's, 
that we are not able to render his meaning with 
confidence ? Is it not his fault that we should have 
to suggest the point as a question, and should fall 
back with some misgiving on our vague apprehen- 
sions ? 

As we conceive, the purport of Mr. Meredith's 
book is to explode the system of an offended 
humourist one Sir Austin Feverel, a despiser of 
women, into whose disparagement of the gentler sex 
there enters a large measure of pique and of personal 
resentment, occasioned by the treachery and deser- 
tion of his wife. Having a son one Richard 
Feverel on his hands to educate, and for whom he 

53 



The Times 

entertains strong affection, nevertheless he gratifies his 
wrath at his wife by subjecting this boy to the ordeal 
of an educational system which is to render him 
forcibly a pattern of moral excellence. He deceives 
himself into believing that he acts as he does out of 
regard to his son ; for his pique leavens his theory, 
and eventually becomes its Nemesis. There is a 
vagueness, or rather a confusion, in Sir Austin's 
motives, which his system partakes, for its tendency 
and appliances are by no means transparent. Its 
gist, as applied to Sir Austin's educational crotchet, 
is this : 

" That a golden age, or something near it, might yet be 
established on our sphere, when fathers accepted their 
solemn responsibility, and studied human nature with a 
scientific eye, knowing what a high science it is to live ; 
and that, by hedging round the youth from corruptness, 
and at the same time promoting his animal health, by 
helping him to grow, as he would, like a tree of Eden ; by 
advancing him to a certain moral fortitude ere the Apple 
Disease was spontaneously developed, there would be seen 
something approaching to a perfect man, as the Baronet 
trusted to make this one son of his, after a recipe of his 
own." 

The Apple Disease, as it is quaintly termed, is 
the mutual affection of the sexes, supposed to have 
been generated in Paradise, as a consequence of our 
corrupted nature, and from this affection it is the 
endeavour of Sir Austin to preserve his son as long 
as possible, by training him on a Spartan nurture, 
with all the advantages of science. His design is 

54 



on The Ordeal of Richard Feverel 

only half approved by the relatives whom he hospit- 
ably houses, and who, according to their various 
temperaments and views, oppose or acquiesce in his 
design. His sister, Mrs. Doria, who has a daughter 
Clare, whom she destines for Richard, and who has 
" the far sight, the deep determination, the resolute 
perseverance of her sex, where a daughter is to be 
provided for, and a man overthrown," fixes herself at 
Raynham, Sir Austin's residence, with the deliberate 
intent to watch the system and sap it. But Richard 
is saved from becoming the shuttlecock of these con- 
tending influences by his indifference to his cousin 
Clare, who is, nevertheless, tenderly attached to him. 
He grows up with partial and dubious help from the 
system, a brave, strong-willed, high-minded boy, 
given to feats and pranks of unusual audacity, but 
with no premature symptoms of the Apple Disease, 
until Sir Austin shuts up the safety-valve of poetry 
to which he had become addicted, and precipitates 
a crisis : 

"When Nature has made us ripe for love, it seldom 
occurs that the fates are behindhand in furnishing a temple 
for the flame. 

" Above green flashing plunges of a weir, and shaken 
by the thunder below, lilies, golden and white, were swaying 
at anchor among the reeds. Meadow-sweet hung from the 
banks thick with weed and trailing bramble, and there also 
hung a daughter of Earth. Her face was shaded by a broad 
straw hat, with a flexile brim that left her lips and chin in 
the sun, and, sometimes nodding, sent forth a light of 
promising eyes. Across her shoulders and behind flowed 

55 



The Times 

large, loose curls, brown in shadow, almost golden where 
the ray touched them. She was simply dressed, befitting 
decency and the season. On a closer inspection you might 
see that her lips were stained. This blooming young person 
was regaling on dewberries. They grew between the bank 
and the water. Apparently she found the fruit abundant, 
for her hand was making pretty progress to her mouth. 
Fastidious youth, which shudders and revolts at woman 
plumping her exquisite proportions on bread and butter, 
and would, we must suppose, joyfully have her quite scraggy 
to have her quite poetical, can hardly object to dewberries. 
Indeed, the act of eating them is dainty and induces musing. 
The dewberry is a sister to the lotos, and an innocent sister. 
You eat; mouth, eye, and hand are occupied, and the 
undrugged mind free to roam. And so it was with the 
little damsel who knelt there. The little skylark went up 
above her, all song, to the smooth southern cloud lying 
along the blue ; from a dewy copse standing dark over her 
nodding hat, the blackbird fluted, calling to her with thrice 
mellow note ; the kingfisher flashed emerald out of green 
osiers; a bow-winged heron travelled aloft, searching 
solitude ; a boat slipped towards her, containing a dreamy 
youth, and still she plucked the fruit, and ate, and mused, 
as if no fairy prince were invading her territories, and as 
if she wished not for one, or knew not her wishes. Sur- 
rounded by the green shaven meadows, the pastoral summer 
buzz, the weir-fall's thundering white, amid the breath and 
beauty of wildflowers, she was a bit of lovely human life 
in a fair setting ; a terrible attraction. The Magnetic Youth 
leaned round to note his proximity to the weir-piles, and 
beheld the sweet vision. Stiller and stiller grew nature, 
as at the meeting of two electric clouds. Her posture was 
so graceful that, though he was making straight for the 
weir, he dared not dip a scull. Just then one most enticing 

56 



on The Ordeal of Richard Feverel 

dewberry caught her eye. He was floating by unheeded, 
and saw that her hand stretched low, and could not gather 
what it sought. A stroke from his right brought him beside 
her. The damsel glanced up dismayed, and her whole 
shape trembled over the brink. Richard sprang from his 
boat into the water. Pressing a hand beneath her foot, 
which she had thrust against the crumbling wet sides of 
the bank to save herself, he enabled her to recover her 
balance, and gain safe earth, whither, emboldened by the 
incident, touching her finger's tip, he followed her." 

The damsel is the niece of a neighbouring farmer, 
and the interview proceeds to its denouement thus 
naturally in the manner of Ferdinand and Miranda, 
through a passage replete with freshness and vigour 
of no common order : 

"Richard, with his eyes still intently fixed on her, 
returned, ' You are very beautiful ! ' 

"The words slipped out. Perfect simplicity is un- 
consciously audacious. Her overpowering beauty struck 
his heart, and, like an instrument that is touched and 
answers to the touch, he spoke. 

"Miss Desborough made an effort to trifle with this 
terrible directness; but his eyes would not be gainsaid, 
and checked her lips. She turned away from them, her 
bosom a little rebellious. Praise so passionately spoken, 
and by one who has been a damsel's first dream, dreamed 
of nightly many long nights, and clothed in the virgin 
silver of her thoughts in bud, praise from him is coin the 
heart cannot reject if it would. She quickened her steps 
to the stile. 

" ' I have offended you,' said a mortally wounded voice 
across her shoulder. 

" That he should think so were too dreadful. 

57 



The Times 

" ' Oh, no, no ! you would never offend me.' She gave 
him her whole sweet face. 

" ' Then why ? Why do you leave me ? ' 

" ' Because,' she hesitated, * I must go.' 

"'No? You must not go. Why must you go? Do 
not go.' 

" ' Indeed, I must,' she said, pulling at the obnoxious 
broad brim of her hat ; and, interpreting a pause he made 
for his assent to her sensible resolve, shyly looking at him , 
she held her hand out and said, ' Good-bye,' as if it were a 
natural thing to say. 

" The hand was pure white, white and fragrant as the 
frosted blossom of a May night. It was the hand whose 
shadow cast before he had last night bent his head 
reverentially above, and kissed, resigning himself thereupon 
over to execution for payment of the penalty of such 
daring ; by such bliss well rewarded. 

"He took the hand, and held it; gazing between her 
eyes. 

" ' Good-bye,' she said again, as frankly as she could, 
and at the same time slightly compressing her fingers on 
his in token of adieu. It was a signal for his to close 
firmly upon hers. 

"'You will not go?' 

" ' Pray let me,' she pleaded, her sweet brows suing in 
wrinkles. 

" ' You will not go ? ' Mechanically he drew the white 
hand nearer his thumping heart. 

" ' I must,' she faltered piteously. 

"'You will not go?' 

"'Oh yes! yes!' 

" ' Tell me. Do you wish to go ? ' 

" The question was subtle. A moment or two she did 
not answer, and then forswore herself, and said, ' Yes.' 

58 



on The Ordeal of Richard Feverel 

"'Do you; do you wish to go?' He looked with 
quivering eyelids under hers. 

" A fainter ' Yes,' responded to his passionate repetition. 

"'You wish; wish to leave me?' His breath went 
with the words. 

" ' Indeed, I must.' 

" Her hand became a closer prisoner. 

"All at once an alarming, delicious shudder went 
through her frame. From him to her it coursed, and back 
from her to him. Forward and back Love's electric mes- 
senger rushed from heart to heart, knocking at each, till it 
surged tumultuously against the bars of its prison crying 
out for its mate. They stood trembling in unison a lovely 
couple under these fair heavens of the morning. 

" When he could get his voice it was, ' Will you go ? ' 

" But she had none to reply with, and could only mutely 
bend upward her gentle wrist. 

" ' Then, farewell,' he said, and dropping his lips to the 
soft, fair hand, kissed it and hung his head, swinging away 
from her ready for death. 

" Strange that now she was released she should linger 
by him. Strange that his audacity, instead of the execu- 
tioner, brought blushes and timid tenderness to his side, 
and the sweet words, c You are not angry with me ? ' 

"'With you, O beloved?' cried his soul. 'And you 
forgive me, Fair Charity ! ' 

"She repeated her words in deeper sweetness to his 
bewildered look ; and he, inexperienced, possessed by her, 
almost lifeless with the divine new emotions she had realised 
in him, could only sigh, and gaze at her wonderingly. 

" ' I think it was rude of me to go without thanking you 
again,' she said, and again proffered her hand. 

"The sweet heaven-bird shivered out his song above 
him. The gracious glory of Heaven fell upon his soul. 

59 



The Times 

He touched her hand, not moving his eyes from her, nor 
speaking, and she, with a soft word of farewell, passed 
across the stile and up the pathway through the dewy 
shades of the copse, and out of the arch of the light, away 
from his eyes. 

"And away with her went the wild enchantment; he 
looked on barren air. But it was no more the world of 
yesterday. The marvellous splendours had sown seeds in 
him, ready to spring up and bloom at her gaze ; and in his 
bosom now the vivid conjuration of her tones, her face, her 
shape, makes them leap and illumine him like fitful summer 
lightnings ghosts of the vanished sun. 

"There was nothing to tell him that he had been making 
love and declaring it with extraordinary rapidity ; nor did 
he know it. Soft-flushed cheeks ! sweet mouth ! strange, 
sweet brows ! eyes of softest fire ! how could his ripe eyes 
see you and not plead to keep you ? Nay, how could he 
let you go ? And he seriously asks himself that question. 

" To-morrow this spot will have a memory ; the river, 
and the meadow, and the white, falling weir; his heart 
will build a temple here ; and the skylark will be its high- 
priest, and the old blackbird its glossy gowned chorister, 
and there will be a sacred repast of dewberries. To-day 
the grass is grass; his heart is chased by phantoms, and 
finds rest nowhere. Only when the most tender freshness 
of his flower comes across him does he taste a moment's 
calm ; and no sooner does it come than it gives place to 
keen pangs of fear that she may not be his for ever." 

As the above description augurs, the System is 
likely to succeed through the boy's luck in finding a 
pure and charming object for his first affections. But 
his father is bent on looking out a suitable bride for 
his son, according to his notions of the requisites of 

60 



on The Ordeal of Richard Feverel 

a mate worthy of his pure-blood barb. And though 
in the mean time the Fairy Prince has himself dis- 
covered the Princess, the envious fates keep Cin- 
derella out of the father's sight, until the latter hears 
of the spontaneous attachment through a cynical 
relative, and determines to break off what he con- 
siders the boy's foolish liaison. Thereupon Richard 
is summoned to town and kept out of the way of his 
betrothed till she can be secluded from his search by 
arrangement with her parents. When he is allowed 
to return to Raynham, Lucy has disappeared, and 
the thwarted passion of the boy throws him into a 
brain fever. The scientific humanist beholds his son 
prostrate, " forgetful even of love, a drowned weed 
borne onward by the tide of the hours ; " and prays 
over him without remorse, supporting his anxiety by 
his unbounded faith in the physical energy he attri- 
butes to the System. 

"This providential stroke had saved the youth from 
Heaven knew what ! ' Mark ! ' said the baronet to Lady 
Blandish, ' when he recovers, he will not care for her.' 

" The lady had accompanied him to the Bellingham Inn 
on first hearing of Richard's seizure. 

" f Oh ! what an iron man you can be,' she exclaimed, 
smothering her intuitions. She was for giving the boy his 
bauble ; promising it him, at least, if he would only get well 
and be the bright flower of promise he once was. 

" ' Can you look on him,' she pleaded, ' can you look 
on him, and persevere ? ' 

" It was a hard sight for this man who loved his son so 
deeply. The youth lay in his strange bed, straight and 
motionless, with fever on his cheeks, and altered eyes. 

61 



The Times 

" c See what you do to us ! ' said the baronet, sorrow- 
fully eyeing the bed. 

" ' But if you lose him ? ' Lady Blandish whispered. 

"Sir Austin walked away from her, and probed the 
depths of his love. ' The stroke will not be dealt by me,' 
he said. 

"His patient serenity was a wonder to all who knew 
him. Indeed, to have doubted and faltered now was to 
have subverted the glorious fabric just on the verge of 
completion. He believed that his son's pure strength was 
fitted to cope with any natural evil ; that such was God's 
law. To him Richard's passion was an ill, incident to the 
ripeness of his years and his perfect innocence, and this 
crisis the struggle of the poison passing out of him not to 
be deplored. He was so confident that he did not even 
send for Dr. Bairam. Old Dr. Clifford, of Lobourne, was 
the medical attendant, who, with head-shaking and gather- 
ing of lips, and reminiscences of ancient arguments, 
guaranteed to do all that leech could do in the matter. 
The old doctor did admit that Richard's constitution was 
admirable, and answered to his prescriptions like a piano 
to the musician. ' But,' he said, at a family consultation, 
for Sir Austin had told him how it stood with the young 
man, ' drugs are not much in cases of this sort. Change ! 
That's what's wanted, and as soon as may be. Distraction ! 
He ought to see the world, and know what he's made of. 
It's no use my talking, I know,' added the doctor. 

" ' On the contrary,' said Sir Austin, ' I am quite of your 
persuasion. And the world he shall see now.' 

***** 

" When the young experiment again knew the hours 
that rolled him onward, he was in his own room at Rayn- 
ham. Nothing had changed : only a strong fist had knocked 
him down and stunned him, and he opened his eyes to a 

62 



on The Ordeal of Richard Feverel 

gray world. He had forgotten what he lived for. He was 
weak, and thin, and with a pale memory of things. His 
functions were the same, everything surrounding him was 
the same ; he looked upon the old blue hills, the far-lying 
fallows, the rivers, and the woods ; he knew them, but they 
seemed to have lost recollection of him. Nor could he 
find in familiar human faces the secret of intimacy of here- 
tofore. They were the same faces ; they nodded and smiled 
to him. What was lost he could not tell. Something had 
been knocked out of him. He was sensible of his father's 
sweetness of manner, and he was grieved that he could not 
reply to it, for every sense of shame and reproach had 
strangely gone. He felt very useless. In place of the 
fiery love for one, he now bore about a cold charity to all. 

" Thus in the heart of the young man died the spring 
primrose, and while it died another heart was pushing 
forth the primrose of autumn. 

" The wonderful change in Richard, and the wisdom of 
her admirer, now positively proved, were exciting matters 
to Lady Blandish. She was rebuked for certain little 
rebellious fancies concerning him that had come across her 
enslaved mind from time to time. For was he not almost 
a prophet ? It distressed the sentimental lady that a love 
like Richard's could pass off in mere smoke, and words 
such as she had heard him speak in Abbey-wood resolve to 
emptiness. Nay, it humiliated her personally, and the 
baronet's shrewd prognostication humiliated her. For how 
should he know, and dare to say, that love was a thing of 
the dust that could be trodden out under the heel of science ? 
But he had said so, and he had proved himself right. She 
heard with wonderment that Richard of his own accord had 
spoken to his father of the folly he had been guilty of, 
and had begged his pardon. The baronet told her this, 
adding that the youth had done it in a cold unwavering way, 

63 



The Times 

without a movement of his features ; had evidently done it 
to throw off the burden of the duty he had conceived, and 
thereafter passed by." 

But the baronet and Richard himself are deceived 
as to his state, as the event proves when the decep- 
tion is exploded by a recurrence of opportunity, 
on Richard's appearance in town. Again he meets 
Lucy, and rushing to his goal in defiance of the 
System, he instantly carries her off, and with the 
assistance of some minor agents succeeds in marrying 
her. This stage of the hero's ordeal, while Lucy is 
secluded preparatory to her nuptials, is told with 
charming freshness and grace, and we conceive that 
here the author is most adroit and felicitous. But 
then comes the faulty remnant, which spoils an effec- 
tive story by inconsequential proceedings on the part 
of both father and son. The father declines to receive 
his son's bride, and, without withdrawing his counte- 
nance, keeps out of the way of explanations, apparently 
aiming at some further probation of his pupil ; and 
the son, by misrepresentation of the fitting mode of 
propitiation, is induced to abandon his wife for a long 
interval, and to mortify his affections to do homage 
to his father. Worse than this, in an artistic sense, 
he is untrue to his own nature and to the passion 
which is represented as occupying him intensely ; for 
in the interval he is tempted by an enchantress of the 
Demi-monde ; and without a thought of love, in a 
paroxysm of sublime pity, he falls. Justly does Mr. 
Meredith exclaim at the conclusion of his brilliant 
incantation scene " Was ever hero in this fashion 

64 



on The Ordeal of Richard Feverel 

won ? " for the winning of the hero under such circum- 
stances revolts our notions of consistency, and drags 
us from the sphere of harmonious art into the chaos 
of caprice. It is a small compensation that these 
inconsistencies are the framework of powerful scenes, 
for they tend to no test of the System, pro or con, and 
they hurry us forward to a denouement still more 
unsatisfactory. Thus, long after the baronet has 
been reconciled to his daughter-in-law, Richard is 
kept from returning to his wife by remorse. When 
he does return, recalled by the knowledge that in 
the mean time he has become a father, and his wife 
receives him with a tenderness reviving hope and 
confidence, a duel succeeds in which he is wounded, 
and the wife who has borne up against the agony of 
desertion, in possession of her child and anticipating a 
reunion with her husband, dies of cerebral excitement. 
Mr. Meredith thereupon turns round and accuses the 
System of murdering his heroine ; but for this un- 
necessary sacrifice of an innocent victim, unnecessary 
because at this stage in reference to the System it 
proves nothing, we take the liberty of accusing Mr. 
Meredith himself. His Lucy is exquisitely painted, 
her conduct throughout is admirable, she is the pure, 
gentle sufferer in the contest of father and son, and 
when the author owed her compensation, and just as 
we are expecting him to render it, she is hurried off 
the scene by a catastrophe in defiance of poetical 
justice. This is neither the ancient nor the true 
method. The poet who has to expiate the sins of 
a race may provide an innocent victim in deference 

65 F 



The Times 

to Nemesis, but even he rescues his Iphigenia at the 
critical moment, or, if he immolates his Antigone, 
it is to find the means of punishing her persecutor. 
Mr. Meredith's, on the contrary, is the pure wanton- 
ness of authorship, a barbarity like that for which 
Mr. Charles Dickens is so often answerable, that of 
smothering innocents out of pure sentimentalism ; 
and if he does not, like Mr. Dickens, linger on the 
agonies of his victims, he deserves equally to be 
haunted by the ghost of his most beautiful creation. 

Nor, as we said, does the world which Mr. 
Meredith has brought together as a test of the 
System otherwise answer its purpose. The System is 
not responsible for Richard's temptation and neglect 
of his wife ; for Richard's nature, as depicted, should 
at least have prevented this. He is represented as 
completely under the dominion of his instincts, yet 
he yields to contrary influences in the very conjunc- 
ture where instinct would have proved strongest and 
most certainly invincible. Nor is it the System which 
retains him in London ; but Mr. Meredith, who 
accomplishes the result at the expense of congruity 
and probability. The System is arraigned, but it is 
never tried fairly, its merits or demerits are unsolved 
to the last. It is not the System, but the luck of 
discovering a Lucy which makes Richard up to a 
certain point a satisfactory result. It is not the 
System, but Richard's inconsistency which undoes 
this result, and it is pure accident which at the last 
precipitates the catastrophe. The System is tried, 
but it can neither be acquitted or condemned on 

66 



on The Ordeal of Richard Feverel 

this evidence, and the verdict to be taken on Mr. 
Meredith's thesis is simply " not proven." 

At the same time let us fairly acknowledge the 
striking merits of this imperfect book. Every touch 
in the picture of Clare is consistent and harmonious. 
In Lady Blandish, Sir Austin's semi-platonic friend, 
there are traits of feminine nature which evince deep 
penetration. Good old Mrs. Berry, the deserted wife, 
who promotes the union of the young couple, is a 
more arbitrary delineation, but touched with infinite 
humour. According to her own account of herself, 
she is " a widow and not a widow, and haven't got a 
name for what she is in any dixonary. I've looked, 
my dear, and " she spread out her arms " Johnson 
haven't got a name for me." Excellent is her advice 
to Lucy, " Mind me and mark me ; don't neglect your 
cookery. Kissing don't last, cookery do." By atten- 
tion to this useful advice Lucy succeeds very naturally 
in conciliating the favour of Adrian Harley, the man 
of the world, Sir Austin's nephew and cool counsellor 
in ordinary. Adrian's character is thus skilfully elabo- 
rated, under the designation of the Wise Youth : 

" Adrian had an instinct for the majorities, and, as the 
world invariably found him enlisted in its ranks, his appel- 
lation of Wise Youth was generally acquiesced in. 

" The Wise Youth, then, had the world with him, but 
no friends. Nor did he wish for these troublesome appen- 
dages of success. He caused himself to be required by 
people who could serve him ; feared by such as could 
injure. Not that he went out of the way to secure his end, 
or risked the expense of a plot. He did the work as 

67 



The Times 

easily as he ate his daily bread. Adrian was an Epicurean ; 
one whom Epicurus would have scourged out of his garden, 
certainly an Epicurean of our modern notions. To satisfy 
his appetites without rashly staking his character was the 
Wise Youth's problem for life. He had no intimates, 
save Gibbon and Horace, and the society of these fine 
aristocrats of literature helped him to accept humanity as 
it had been, and was a supreme ironic procession, with 
laughter of gods in the background. Why not laughter of 
mortals also? Adrian had his laugh in his comfortable 
corner. He possessed peculiar attributes of a heathen god. 
He was a disposer of men ; he was polished, luxurious, and 
happy at their cost. He lived in eminent self-content, as 
one lying on soft cloud lapt in sunshine. Nor Jove nor 
Apollo cast eye upon the maids of earth with cooler fire of 
selection, or pursued them in the covert with more sacred 
impunity. And he enjoyed his reputation for virtue as 
something additional. Stolen fruits are said to be sweet. 
Undeserved rewards are very exquisite. 

"The best of it was that Adrian made no pretences. 
He did not solicit the favourable judgment of the world. 
Nature and he attempted no other concealment than the 
ordinary mask men wear. And yet the world would pro- 
claim him moral as well as wise, and the pleasing converse 
every way of his disgraced cousin Austin. Adrian had a 
logical contempt for creatures who do things for mere show, 
as losing, he said, the core of enjoyment for the rind of 
respectability. The world might find itself in the wrong ; 
it would find him the same. His ambition, within the 
reserved limits, was to please himself, as being the best 
judge and the absolute gainer. Placed on Crusoe's Island, 
his first cry would have been for clean linen ; his next for 
the bill of fare ; and then for that Grand Panorama of the 
Mistress of the World falling to wreck under the barbarians, 

68 



on The Ordeal of Richard Feverel 

which had been the spur and the seal to his mind ; twitter- 
ing Horace in Roman feast-attendant's tunic, twanging his 
lyre, might charm him to sleep, careless of the morrow, 
since the day was good. 

" In a word, Adrian Harley had mastered his philosophy 
at the early age of one-and-twenty. Many would be glad 
to say the same at that age twice-told ; they carry in their 
breasts a burden with which Adrian's was not loaded. 
Mrs. Doria was nearly right about his heart. A singular 
mishap (at his birth, possibly, or before it) had unseated 
that organ, and shaken it down to his stomach, where it was 
a much lighter, nay, an inspiring, weight, and encouraged 
him merrily onward. Throned in that region, it looked on 
little that did not arrive to gratify it. Already that region 
was a trifle prominent in the person of the Wise Youth, and 
carried, as it were, the flag of his philosophical tenets in 
front of him. A fat Wise Youth, digesting well ; charming 
after dinner, with men or with women; soft, dimpled, 
succulent-looking as a sucking-pig; delightfully sarcastic; 
perhaps a little too unscrupulous in his moral tone, but 
that his moral reputation belied him, and it must be set 
down to generosity of disposition. 

" Such was the Adrian Harley, another of Sir Austin's 
intellectual favourites, chosen from mankind to superintend 
the education of his son at Raynham. Adrian had been 
destined for the Church. He did not enter into orders. 
He and the baronet had a conference together one day, 
and from that time Adrian became a fixture in the Abbey. 
His father, Mr. Justice Harley, died in his promising son's 
College term, bequeathing him nothing but his legal com- 
plexion, and Adrian became stipendiary officer in his 
uncle's household. 

" The Wise Youth spread out his mind to the system 
like a piece of blank paper." 

69 



The Times on Richard Feverel 

Thus Mr. Meredith shoots at Adrian with the bow 
of Apollo, but the Wise Youth and the " Pilgrim's 
Scrip," an imaginary work of the baronet's, are none 
the less the chorus to his tragedy, and as obtrusive 
as any chorus of the Athenian stage. 

One other word remains this book has been 
charged with impurity, and tabooed, as we hear, in 
some quarters by the over-fastidious. It certainly 
touches a delicate theme, and includes some equivocal 
situations, but of impurity, in the sense of any cor- 
rupting tendency, we see not a trace, and we will not 
endorse the imputation. It is a novel, in short, which 
may be read by men and women with perfect im- 
punity if they have no corrupt imagination of their 
own to pervert the pure purpose of the author. 



VII 

JAMES THOMSON 

ON 

THE ORDEAL OF RICHARD FEVEREL 

[This article appeared in Cope's Tobacco Plant, vol. ii., No. HO, 
May, 1879, pp. 334-336, and is a review of the one volume edition of 
" Richard Feverel," published by Kegan Paul in 1878. It was entitled 
" An Old New Book," and signed " Sigvat."] 

WHEN one finds a novel begin thus, he knows that 
he has to do with a thinker : 

" Some years ago a book was published under the title 
of c The Pilgrim's Scrip.' It consisted of a selection of 
original aphorisms by an anonymous gentleman, who in 
this bashful manner gave a bruised heart to the world. 

"He made no pretension to novelty. 'Our new 
thoughts have thrilled dead bosoms,' he wrote ; by which 
avowal it may be seen that youth had manifestly gone from 
him, since he had ceased to be jealous of the ancients. 
There was a half-sigh floating through his pages for those 
days of intellectual coxcombry, when ideas come to us 
affecting the embraces of virgins, and swear to us they are 
ours alone, and no one else have they ever visited : and we 
believe them. 

" For an example of his ideas of the sex, he said, ' I 
expect that Woman will be the last thing civilised by 
Man.'" 

71 



James Thomson 



The Pilgrim of the Scrip is the father, Sir Austin 
Feverel, Bart, of Raynham Abbey, in a certain 
western county folding Thames. He had a wife and 
a friend : the wife a poor beauty, too far beneath her 
husband in mental and moral stature ; the friend a 
dangling parasite, a sort of poet of sentiment and 
satire. After five years of marriage, and twelve of 
friendship, Sir Austin was left to his loneliness, with 
nothing to ease his heart of love upon save a little 
baby boy in a cradle. The baby is Richard, the 
subject of the Ordeal, which is the system of educa- 
tion elaborated by the father so incurably wounded 
in friendship and love : 

" Richard was neither to go to school nor to college. 
Sir Austin considered that the schools were corrupt, and 
maintained that young lads might by parental vigilance be 
kept pretty secure from the Serpent until Eve sided with 
him : a period that might be deferred, he said." 

Again : 

" Sir Austin wished to be Providence to his son. If 
immeasurable love were perfect wisdom, one human being 
might almost impersonate Providence to another. Alas ! 
love, divine as it is, can do no more than lighten the house 
it inhabits must take its shape, sometimes intensify its 
narrowness can spiritualise, but not expel, the old life- 
long lodgers above-stairs and below." 

Whence we apprehend that the infallible System 
may fail ; that in being the Ordeal of young Richard, 
it is passing through a fiery ordeal itself, from which 

72 



on The Ordeal of Richard Feverel 

it can scarcely emerge scatheless from which it may 
not emerge at all, being utterly consumed. As for 
the faithless wife and friend, we have but the briefest 
glimpses of either ; one glimpse of both together is 
very truly sad : 

" Further behind the scenes we observe Rizzio and 
Mary grown older, much disenchanted : she discrowned, 
dishevelled he with gouty fingers on a greasy guitar. The 
Diaper Sandoe of promise lends his pen for small hires. 
His fame has sunk ; his bodily girth has sensibly increased. 
What he can do, and will do, is still his theme ; meantime 
the juice of the juniper is in requisition, and it seems those 
small hires cannot be performed without it." 

Rizzio, if you like, Mr. Meredith, though surely 
a very mean one ; but wherefore this poor-spirited, 
weak-minded, soft-headed creature, Mary? Mary, 
one of those few supreme women like Helen and 
Cleopatra, each to the common of her sex "as a 
royal Bengal tigress to a household cat ; " most 
beautiful, most terrible, haughty, and splendid and 
indomitable, fatal and fated ; transcending all our 
petty moral codes, triumphing disastrously in life 
and death, compelling reluctant History to bow down 
and adore. 

Let us see how our author delineates a character, 
before setting it to act for itself. Here is Richard's 
cousin and tutor : 

" The principal characteristic of Adrian Harley was his 
sagacity. He was essentially the wise youth, both in 
counsel and in action. 'In action,' the 'Pilgrim's Scrip' 

73 



James Thomson 



observes, ' Wisdom goes by majorities.' * Adrian had an 
instinct for the majorities, and as the world invariably 
found him enlisted in its ranks, his appellation of wise 
youth was acquiesced in without irony. 

" The wise youth, then, had the world with him, but no 
friends. Nor did he wish for those troublesome appen- 
dages of success. He caused himself to be required by 
people who could serve him ; feared by such as could 
injure. Not that he went out of the way to secure his end, 
or risked the expense of a plot. He did the work as easily 
as he ate his daily bread. Adrian was an epicurean : one 
whom Epicurus would have scourged out of his garden, 
certainly ; an epicurean of our modern notions. To satisfy 
his appetites without rashly staking his character, was the 
wise youth's problem for life. He had no intimates except 
Gibbon and Horace, and the society of these fine aristocrats 
of literature helped him to accept humanity as it had been, 
and was; a supreme ironic procession, with laughter of 
gods in the background. Why not laughter of mortals 
also ? Adrian had his laugh in his comfortable corner. He 
possessed peculiar attributes of a heathen god. He was a 
disposer of men : he was polished, luxurious, and happy 
at their cost. He lived in eminent self-content, as one 
lying on soft cloud, lapt in sunshine. Nor Jove, nor 
Apollo, cast eye upon the maids of earth with cooler fire of 
selection, or pursued them in the covert with more sacred 

* Compare Leopardi, " Pensieri," V. : " In things occult the 
minority always sees better ; in plain things, the majority. It is 
absurd to adduce what is called the consensus of the multitude [Reid's 
" Common Sense "] in metaphysical questions ; of which consensus no 
account is taken in physical matters, subject to the senses ; as, for 
example, in the question of the motion of the earth, and in a thousand 
others. And, on the contrary, it is rash, dangerous, and in the long 
run useless, to oppose the opinion of the majority in civil affairs." 
-J. T. 

74 



on The Ordeal of Richard Feverel 

impunity. And he enjoyed his reputation for virtue as 
something additional. Stolen fruits are said to be sweet ; 
undeserved rewards are exquisite. 

" The best of it was, that Adrian made no pretences. 
He did not solicit the favourable judgment of the world. 
Nature and he attempted no other concealment than the 
ordinary mask men wear. And yet the world would pro- 
claim him moral, as well as wise. 

" In a word, Adrian Harley had mastered his philosophy 
at the early age of one-and-twenty. Many would be glad 
to say the same at that age twice told ; they carry in their 
breasts a burden with which Adrian's was not loaded. A 
singular mishap (at his birth, possibly, or before it) had 
unseated his heart, and shaken it down to his stomach, 
where it was a much lighter, nay, an inspiring, weight, and 
encouraged him merrily onward. Throned there it looked 
on little that did not arrive to gratify it. Already that 
region was a trifle prominent in the person of the wise 
youth, and carried, as it were, the flag of his philosophical 
tenets in front of him. He was charming, after dinner, 
with men or with women ; delightfully sarcastic ; perhaps 
a little unscrupulous in his moral tone, but that his moral 
reputation belied him, and it must be set down to gene- 
rosity of disposition." 

This from Chapter I., let us move on to II. 
and III. 

" October shone royally on Richard's fourteenth birth- 
day. The brown beech woods and golden birches glowed 
to a brilliant sun. Banks of moveless cloud hung about 
the horizon, mounded to the west, where slept the wind. 
Promise of a great day for Raynham, as it proved to be, 
though not in the manner marked out." 

For the hero of the festival had been requested 
75 



James Thomson 



by his father to submit to medical examination, like 
a boor enlisting for a soldier, and with a reluctant 
friend of his own age was flying as though he would 
have flown from the shameful thought of what had 
been asked of him. His friend said his sentiments 
were those of a girl ; for which offensive remark 
friend was called a fool when he fired badly, they 
having borrowed a couple of guns at the bailiff's 
farm. Hence a fight, in which poor friend's nose was 
damaged ; then reconciliation, Richard, having the 
better of it, withdrawing the " fool." Unconsciously 
they got poaching on the demesne of the notorious 
free-trade Farmer Blaize, who loved not Feverels ; 
and, after threats and defiance, soundly horsewhipped 
the youngsters. Richard goes on in a fever ; with 
a horrible sense of shame, self-loathing, universal 
hatred, impotent vengeance, as if his spirit were 
steeped in abysmal blackness ; meditating a thousand 
schemes of sweeping and consummate revenge. 
Something terrible must be done to wipe out the 
indignity ; he would kill the farmer's cattle, he 
would kill the farmer ; would make him fight with 
powder and ball, and shoot the brawny coward 
dead. Truly the System seems in a rather bad wry 
already. 

The boys went on and on across country ; the 
friend, less heroic, becoming more and more intensely 
conscious of weariness and famine. 

" They were a long way down the valley, in a country of 
sour pools, yellow brooks, rank pasturage, desolate heath. 
Solitary cows were seen ; the smoke of a mud-cottage ; 

7 6 



on The Ordeal of Richard Feverel 

a cart filled with peat; a donkey grazing at leisure, 
oblivious of an unkind world ; geese by a horse-pond, 
gabbling as in the first loneliness of creation ;\ uncooked 
things that a famishing boy cannot possibly care for, and 
must despise." 

At length, when friend in despair cried " Tell us 
where you're going to stop," Richard said " There ! " 
and dropped down on a withered bank ; and the 
poor friend, crushed as by remorseless fate, had to 
sink beside him. Thus are we brought to the grand 
duet to the glory of Divine Tobacco, chanted by the 
Travelling Tinker and the Ploughman out of work, 
which, with its accompaniment, must be here set out 
in full : 

" Now, the chance that works for certain purposes sent 
a smart shower from the sinking sun, and the wet sent two 
strangers for shelter in the lane behind the hedge where the 
boys reclined. One was a travelling tinker, who lit a pipe 
and spread a tawny umbrella. The other was a burly 
young countryman, pipeless and tentless. They saluted 
with a nod, and began recounting for each other's benefit 
the day-long doings of the weather, as it had affected their 
individual experience, and followed their prophecies. Both 
had anticipated and foretold a bit of rain before night, and 
therefore both welcomed the rain with satisfaction. A 
monotonous between whiles kind of talk they kept droning, 
in harmony with the still hum of the air. From the weather 
theme they fell upon [i.e. rose to] the blessings of Tobacco ; 
how it was the poor man's friend, his company, his con- 
solation, his comfort, his refuge at night, his first thought 
in the morning. 

77 



James Thomson 



" ' Better than a wife ! ' chuckled the tinker. ' No 
curtain-lecturin" with a pipe. Your pipe a'n't a shrew.' 

" ' That be it ! ' the other chimed in. ' Your pipe doan't 
mak' ye out wi' all the cash Saturday eveninV 

" ' Take one,' said the tinker in the enthusiasm of the 
moment, handing a grimy short clay. Speed-the-Plough 
filled from the tinker's pouch, and continued his praises. 

" ' Penny a day, and there y'are, primed ! Better than 
a wife? Ha, ha!' 

" c And you can get rid of it, if ye wants for to, and 
when ye wants,' added the tinker. 

" ' So ye can ! ' Speed-the-Plough took him up, ' So ye 
can ! And ye doan't want for to. Leastways, t'other case. 
I means pipe.' 

" ' And,' continued the tinker, comprehending him 
perfectly, ' it don't bring repentance after it.' 

" ' Not no how, master, it doan't ! And ' Speed-the- 
Plough cocked his eye ' it doan't eat up half the victuals, 
your pipe doan't.' 

" Here the honest yeoman gesticulated his keen sense 
of a clincher, which the tinker acknowledged ; and having, 
so to speak, sealed up the subject by saying the best thing 
that could be said, the two smoked for some time in silence 
to the drip and patter of the shower. 

"Ripton [Richard's friend] solaced his wretchedness 
by watching them through the briar hedge. He saw 
the tinker stroking a white cat, and appealing to her, 
every now and then, as his missus, for an opinion or 
a confirmation; and he thought that a curious sight. 
Speed-the-Plough was stretched at full length, with his 
boots in the rain, and his head amidst the tinker's pots, 
smoking profoundly contemplative. The minutes seemed 
to be taken up alternately by the grey puffs from their 
mouths. 

78 



on The Ordeal of Richard Feverel 

" It was the tinker who renewed the colloquy. Said he, 
4 Times is bad ! ' 

" His companion assented, ' Sure-ly ! ' 

" ' But it somehow comes round right/ resumed the 
tinker. ' Why, look here. Where's the good o' moping ? 
I sees it all come round right and tight. Now, I travels 
about. I've got my beat. 'Casion calls me t'other day to 
Newcastle ! Eh ? ' 

" ' Coals ! ' ejaculated Speed-the-Plough, sonorously. 

" ' Coals ! ' echoed the tinker. * You ask what I goes 
there for, mayhap ? Never you mind. One sees a most o' 
life in my trade. Not for coals it isn't. And I don't carry 
'em there, neither. Anyhow, I comes back. London's my 
mark. Says I, I'll see a bit o' the sea, and steps aboard 
a collier. We were as nigh wrecked as the prophet Paul.' 

" ' A who's him ? ' the other wished to know. 

" ' Read your Bible,' said the tinker. ' We pitched and 
tossed 'taint that game at sea, 'tis on land, I can tell ye ! 
I thinks, down we're going. Say your prayers, Bob Tiles ! 
That was a night, to be sure ! But God's above the devil, 
and here I am, ye see.' 

"Speed-the-Plough lurched round on his elbow and 
regarded him indifferently. ' D'ye call that doctrin' ? He 
bean't al'ays, or I shoo'n't be scrapin' my heels wi' nothin' 
to do, and what's worse, nothin' to eat. Why, look here. 
Luck's luck, and bad luck's the con-trary. Varmer Bollop, 
t'other day, has 's rick burnt down. Next night his gran'ry's 
burnt. What do he tak' and go and do ? He takes and 
goes and hangs unsel', and turns us out of his employ. 
God warn't above the devil then, I thinks, or I can't make 
out the reckonin'.' 

" The tinker cleared his throat, and said it was a bad 
case. 

"'And a darn'd bad case. I'll tak' my oath on't!' 

79 



James Thomson 



cried Speed-the-Plough. ' Well, look heer. Here's another 
darn'd bad case. I threshed for Varmer Blaize Blaize o' 
Beltharpe afore I goes to Varmer Bollop. Varmer Blaize 
misses pilkins. He swears our chaps steals pilkins. 
'Twarn't me steals 'em. What do he tak' and go and do ? 
He takes and turns us off, me and another, neck and crop, 
we scuffle about and starve, for all he keers. God warn't 
above the devil then, I thinks. Not nohow, as I can see ! ' 

" The tinker shook his head, and said, that was a bad 
case also. 

"'And you can't mend it,' added Speed-the-Plough. 
' It's bad, and there it be. But I'll tell ye what, master. 
Bad wants payin' for.' He nodded and winked mysteriously. 
' Bad has its wages as well as honest work, I'm thinkin*. 
Varmer Bollop I don't owe no grudge to ; Varmer Blaize I 
do. And I shud like to stick a Lucifer in his rick some dry 
windy night' Speed-the-Plough screwed up an eye villain- 
ously. 'He wants hittin' in the wind, jest where the 
pocket is, master, do Varmer Blaize, and he'll cry out 
O Lor" ! Varmer Blaize will. You won't get the better o' 
Varmer Blaize by no means, as I makes out, if you doan't 
hit into him jest there.' 

" The tinker sent a rapid succession of white clouds 
from his mouth, and said that would be taking the devil's 
side of a bad case. Speed-the-Plough observed energetically 
that, if Farmer Blaize was on the other, he should be on 
that side. 

" There was a young gentleman close by who thought 
with him." 

After this readers will scarcely be surprised to 
learn that that very night Farmer Blaize's rick and 
stable went to blazes, and that the hero and his 
friend, as well as the honest rustic, were concerned 

80 



on The Ordeal of Richard Feverel 

in the arson. What came of it and what befell the 
hero afterwards, voyaging the wild Sea of Life in the 
ironclad " System"; and how the poor "System" itself 
fared, buffeted by the winds and waves of human 
nature and worldly circumstance; all this I com- 
mend the good and thoughtful smoker to read and 
ponder for himself in the book itself, one of the most 
brilliant and daring of our generation. I may just 
hint that George Meredith appears to have about as 
much esteem for the " System " as Carlyle for Logic- 
spectacles and paper Constitutions. For he, too, is 
a spiritual Idealist who fights resolutely for the 
veracious Real ; he affirms himself as emphatically 
as Fielding, no mere fiction-monger, but an authentic 
historian of genuine Nature, infinitely more noble 
and beautiful in her honest plainness than when 
tricked out and disguised in the most dazzling gauds 
of sentimental and other artificialities. And the 
purport of this " History of Father and Son " may 
be concisely stated in a sentence I have read some- 
where : " A Creed or System is a strait-waistcoat 
for Nature ; and if you will persist in forcing it upon 
her, you will soon experience that the great Titaness 
not only flings it off with wrathful disdain, but makes 
yourself fit for a strait-waistcoat in recompense for 
your trouble." 

One of the unfair and inferior sex has this to give 
him evil courage in writing for the Tobacco Plant \ 
that he will be mainly read by mere men like him- 
self. But should any of the fair and superior sex 
deign a casual glance at the foregoing excerpts, and 

81 G 



James Thomson 

protest against the male arrogance of that " Woman 
will be the last thing civilised by Man " ; and against 
the characteristic selfishness and injustice of that 
preference, wherein Tinker and Ploughman so cordi- 
ally agree, of a cheap pipe to a dear wife : allow me, 
by way of propitiation, to inform these " Fair Ladies 
in Revolt" (of whom our poet has written an ex- 
quisitely subtle and chivalrous ballad), that a certain 
little Lucy, most divinely human, glows glorious in 
the book ; that between her and Richard there is 
some of the most beautiful, simple, warm, frank love- 
making ever met with in drama or romance ; and 
that there is a great deal of the remarkable sayings 
and doings of a certain Mrs. Berry, their humble 
friend, one of the delightfullest bunches of black satin 
that ever rustled through printed pages. 

Having thus, I hope, made peace for my author 
and myself with the ladies, I fall back upon my own 
sex ; for George Meredith is distinctly rather a man's 
than a woman's writer. He has the broad, jolly 
humour, full-blooded with beef and beer, of great 
Fielding, as well as his swift, keen insight ; he has 
the quaint fantastic ironical humour of the poet and 
scholar and thinker freakish touches of Sterne and 
Jean Paul and Carlyle and his own father-in-law 
(Peacock, of " Nightmare Abbey," " Gryll Grange," 
" Headlong Hall," and other enjoyable sojourning 
places, who had Shelley for a friend). In brief, he is 
humoristic and ironical ; and women in general care 
for no humour save of the nursery, distrust and dis- 
like all irony except in talking with and about one 

82 



on The Ordeal of Richard Feverel 

another. But men will savour in that dialogue of 
Tinker and Ploughman the fine open-air wayside 
relish in which our robust old plays and novels are 
so rich, in which most of our modern are so poor. 
George Borrow, George Eliot, George Meredith, can 
reproduce for us this pithy, vulgar talk, succulent 
with honest nature and bookless mother wit ; but 
how many else can furnish it unadulterated ? I have 
named our most popular, and justly popular, great 
novelist along with him who is one of the least 
popular ; and to my mind he is throned not less 
eminent than she ; and if certain jewels in her crown 
are lacking in his, he has others not less precious 
that are wanting in hers. 

As his works are still so little known, while so 
worthy of being known to all competent readers, it 
may be well to take the opportunity of just mention- 
ing them here. " Men of the Time " tells us that he 
was born in Hampshire about 1828, was educated 
partly in Germany, began with the law but abandoned 
it for literature. In 1851 he published a slim volume 
of poems, chiefly lyrical, some of them very fine, 
dedicated to his father-in-law. In 1855, "The Shaving 
of Shagpat, an Arabian Entertainment " ; humorous, 
sententious, vividly picturesque. In 1857, "Farina, 
a Legend of Cologne," a slighter piece of phantastic- 
poetic pleasantry. In 1859, this "Richard Feverel," 
in three vols. ; for the work is really twenty years 
old, though the new edition gives no notice of the 
preceding, just as its title-page mentions no other 
works by the same author. In 1861, "Evan 

83 



James Thomson 



Harrington," which first appeared in Once a Week. 
In 1862, "Modern Love and Poems of the English 
Roadside, with Poems and Ballads," affectionately 
inscribed to Captain Maxse, R.N. ; whereof little 
will soon die. " Modern Love " is a series of 
Rembrandt etchings, for sombre intensity and con- 
cision, summed up in the closing quatrain : 

" In tragic hints here see what evermore 

Moves dark as yonder midnight ocean's force, 
Thundering like ramping hosts of warrior horse, 
To throw that faint thin line upon the shore ! " 

The Roadside Philosophers "Juggling Jerry," the 
" Old Chartist," the " Beggar " soliloquising, and the 
" Patriotic Engineer," with " Grandfather Bridgeman " 
are as genial as harvest sunshine. "Cassandra," 
" Margaret's Bridal Eve," " The Head of Bran," " By 
Morning Twilight," " Shemselnihar," and the "Ode 
to the Spirit of Earth in Autumn," are full of noble 
power and passion. In 1864 and 1866, his master- 
pieces, " Emilia in England," and its sequel, " Vittoria," 
the latter from the Fortnightly Review ; both, despite 
defects of construction in " Vittoria," which celebrates 
the struggle of Northern Italy against Austria, not to 
be successful until many years later, challenging com- 
parison with the very greatest achievements in their 
kind. Between these, in 1865, "Rhoda Fleming." 
In 1871, "Adventures of Harry Richmond," first in 
Cornhill. In 1876, from the Fortnightly, "Beau- 
champ's Career," to which attention was called in our 
" Smoke Room Table." Add a couple of novelettes 

84 



on The Ordeal of Richard Feverel 

in the New Quarterly Magazine, and some poems, 
not yet collected, in the Fortnightly, etc., with a few 
critiques, and we have a pretty complete list of the 
manifest results of about thirty years' high-minded 
and miserably appreciated labour. 

He may be termed, accurately enough for a brief 
indication, the Robert Browning of our novelists ; 
and his day is bound to come, as Browning's at 
length has come. The flaccid and feeble folk, who 
want literature and art that can be inhaled as idly 
as the perfume of a flower, must naturally shrink 
from two such earnestly strenuous spirits, swifter 
than eagles, stronger than lions, in whom, to use the 
magnificent and true language of Coleridge concern- 
ing Shakespeare, "The intellectual power and the 
creative energy wrestle as in a war-embrace." But 
men who have lived and observed and pondered, who 
love intellect and genius and genuine passion, who 
have eyes and ears open to the mysterious miracles 
of nature and art, who flinch not from keenest insight 
into the world and life, who are wont to probe and 
analyse with patient subtlety the intricate social and 
personal problems of our complex quasi-civilisation, 
who look not to mere plot as the be-all and end-all 
of a novel reflecting human character and life, who 
willingly dispense with the childish sugar-plums of 
so-called poetical justice which they never find dis- 
pensed in the grown-up work-o'-day world, who can 
respond with thought to thought, and passion to 
passion, and imagination to imagination ; and, lastly, 
who can appreciate a style vital and plastic as the 

85 



James Thomson on Richard Fevercl 

ever-evolving living world it depicts, equal to all 
emergencies, which can revel with clowns and fence 
with fine ladies and gentlemen, yet rise to all grandeurs 
of Nature and Destiny and the human soul in fieriest 
passion and action: such men, who cannot abound 
anywhere, but who should be less rare among medita- 
tive smokers than in the rest of the community, will 
find a royal treasure-house of delight and instruction 
and suggestion in the works of George Meredith. 



86 



EVAN HARRINGTON 



VIII 
THE SATURDAY REVIEW 

ON 

EVAN HARRINGTON 

[From The Saturday Revifiv, vol. xi., No. 273, January 19, 1861, 
PP- 76-77-1 

WHO would have thought that a really good novel 
could have been written on so very unpromising a 
subject as the history of a tailor who was mistaken 
for a gentleman ? " Evan Harrington " is a sur- 
prisingly good novel ; for we are almost incredulous 
of our own admiration until the story has fairly 
carried us away with it, and then we own that there 
can be no doubt about its power to interest us. At 
first, it seems like trifling with readers that a novelist 
should take for his theme a subject so exactly appro- 
priate to a farce. We resign ourselves to a pleasant 
writer, and say that if Mr. Meredith chooses to write 
such a book we like to read it, but that it is a pity 
he is not working a more promising field. When 
we have finished, we look back as on a story new in 
conception, new in the study of character, fresh, 
odd, a little extravagant, but noble and original. 
Hackneyed novel readers must own that here they 

89 



The Saturday Review 



have the luxury of a novelty offered them. The 
tailor is a gentleman by education, in thought, and 
in every act. Half against his will he is taken for 
a member of a well-known family bearing the same 
name, and he is welcomed to the house of a baronet, 
and to the heart of the baronet's daughter. The 
young people love each other, and the tailor wins 
the lady in the character of a gentleman. Rose's 
maid kindly informs him how her young mistress 
shuddered when she repeated to herself the awful 
word "snip," which some malignant who suspected 
the truth had suggested with respect to her lover. 
But whenever honesty distinctly bids him to own he 
is a tailor, he does so ; and after he has been led by 
passion to avow his love he summons up all his 
courage, and tells Rose that he is the snip she 
detests. She is all frankness, loyalty, and enthusiasm, 
vows she will never desert him, goes straight to her 
father and mother and avows to them that a tailor 
is to be their son-in-law. It is hard to fancy the 
situation in real life, but no one can say that it is 
impossible; and directly we have become familiarized 
with the thought, an author who seizes on it has a 
vast range of feeling to work upon in order to win 
our attention. Mr. Meredith has made the discovery 
that if the farcical side of life is taken seriously, it is 
full of fine tragedy and comedy. This may almost 
be called a discovery, for even if every one would 
have previously acknowledged its truth, no one had 
made a romance out of his perception of it A shy 
honest man is contrasted and coupled with a frank, 

90 



on Evan Harrington 



dashing, honest girl, and they are separated by 
tailordom. There is no end to the struggles of 
passion and principle that this opening may not 
lead to. Very judiciously, Mr. Meredith makes the 
tailor's love triumphant early in the story. He is 
not kept low too long. He is soon ennobled by the 
love bestowed on him by a heroine who deserves to 
be a heroine. The mental difficulties and social 
struggles of a couple advanced thus far give much 
more room for subtle delineation and for highly- 
strung feeling than if the tailor were only emancipated 
at the end of the story from his goose and cabbage. 
" Evan Harrington " has the great merit of increasing 
as it goes on in interest. The tailor becomes nobler 
and better. The heroine passes through her little 
troubles in a way that makes us sometimes pity her 
and sometimes admire her. The story has, of course, 
its defects. It pays the penalty of originality. 
Tailordom in the clouds is a novelty ; but we have 
a little too much of tailordom in the clouds. A 
novelty must in these latter days of writing be 
something special, singular, and probably minute. 
If the writer passes into the general current of life, 
he has been anticipated. This tailor-gentleman is 
something out of the way, and all society is made 
to sweep rather exclusively round the one central 
figure of an ambiguous snip. This is the inevitable 
drawback the author has had to pay for the choice 
of his subject, and in spite of the drawback his choice 
has turned out wonderfully successful. 

There are three things which a writer who wants 



The Saturday Review 



to produce a good novel must hit upon. He brings 
with him, we will suppose, a fine style and an 
abundance of philosophical remarks, which he can 
pour over any subject But in the subject he selects 
he must offer us, first, a good plot ; secondly, one or 
more striking, new, and fully described chief cha- 
racters ; and thirdly, a good group of those minor 
personages who are the Gibeonites of the leading 
performers, and draw water and hew wood as they 
are wanted. Mr, Meredith has got a new plot, and 
a good hero and heroine, who are, as it were, part of 
the plot ; for the whole story turns on the feelings 
of a particular sort of tailor and a particular sort of 
tailor's betrothed. And he has also got a prominent 
character to help the plot on, and to put the hero 
and heroine in and out of their troubles ; and this 
prominent character is so well drawn as to raise Mr. 
Meredith to a very considerable height in the list of 
novel-writers. This person is a sister of the tailor, 
and by a skilful manoeuvre she has managed to 
marry a penniless Portuguese Count. The one dream 
of the Countess's life is to marry her brother to an 
heiress, and her greatest personal ambition is to 
conceal for ever that she is the daughter and sister 
of a tailor. She goes with the tailor-hero to the 
Baronet's house, and there spins her plots, brings all 
the men to her feet, quarrels with the women, and so 
manages by a mixture of flattery, courting, lies, and 
threats, that even old acquaintances who knew her 
in her unfledged days dare not say to each other 
that this magnificent and fascinating Countess de 

92 



on Evan Harrington 



Saldar de Sancorvo is the tailor's daughter they once 
flirted with. The one inherent fault of the book 
naturally casts its shade over the Countess. All 
this struggle to avoid the exposure of tailordom is 
petty and monotonous in itself, and is only raised by 
the noble traits of character it awakens in Rose and 
her snip. The Countess is amusing from the first, 
but the amusement she provides us with is that of a 
good farce, until she begins to borrow a dignity from 
the elevation of the persons whose fortunes she affects. 
But if we take her as she is meant to be if we once 
accept this horror of tailordom as capable of awaken- 
ing profound emotions she is admirable. There are 
touches in her portrait that are masterly. She mixes 
up with her detestably mean stratagems a strange 
recognition of the claims of Providence which is 
irresistibly comic ; and the affectation of foreign 
habits, manners, and opinions which she puts before 
her as a shield and an attraction is so natural that 
it seems as if we must have been reading about a 
real person. If any one wants to gain a notion of 
the trouble and contrivance it takes to write a good 
novel, let him ask himself how far he would be 
capable of devising a series of stratagems by which 
a foreigneering Countess should bring together or 
separate a tailor and a young lady. 

The minor characters belong to a lower walk of 
art. They are not bad or good. Many men and 
women could have struck them off; and not a few 
of them are familiar friends in the world of farces. 
The rapid young gentleman, shunning care, quoting 

93 



The Saturday Review 



scraps of poetry, and finally marrying a lady's-maid ; 
the eccentric bachelor, as whimsical as he is rich ; 
the drawling, offensive, hard lordling, have long been 
" household words " on the comic stage. It is, indeed, 
very difficult to draw a minor character with sufficient 
distinctness, unless by giving it certain very marked 
peculiarities. These may be the peculiarities of a 
class, and then we have the usual pert lady's-maid, 
roguish valet, eccentric uncle, and so forth. Or the 
peculiarities may be merely the accidental signs of 
an individual, and then we have Mr. Carker with his 
teeth, and persons of a similar stamp. Mr. Meredith 
tries hard to keep his minor characters out of these 
fixed and unnatural forms, and he succeeds so far 
that the characters he chooses to assign them tell 
upon the action of the story, and do not merely grow 
beside it. There is also a mode of constructing minor 
characters, which Mr. Meredith adopts with some 
success. It is that of making them studies of moral 
development under peculiar circumstances. Thus, 
for example, there is a second young lady in love 
with the tailor. She is a sickly fright, diseased in 
body and mind. But she fixes her affections on the 
tailor, and is ready to die when he will not have her. 
The truth which she has more particularly the honour 
of illustrating is that a young lady so formed in body 
and soul would be especially captivated with the 
externals of a lover. She adores the build, the look, 
the hair, and eyes of l the tailor, and is indifferent to 
his loyalty and generosity. She thus acts as a foil, 
and brings to light the more elevated tastes of the 

94 



on Evan Harrington 



heroine. We are quite ready to allow, as we read 
the story of this poor creature's sorrows, that Mr. 
Meredith may very likely be right, and that Juliana 
loves the sort of qualities in a man which a sickly 
fright would be likely to love. When we have once 
acknowledged this, we cannot avoid seeing that, 
although she is not very pleasant to read about, she 
lends at once plausibility and interest to the story. 

It is very difficult to measure the kind of praise 
which such a book as " Evan Harrington " ought to 
receive ; and yet criticism ought to be able to offer 
some scale by which praise is to be regulated. 
Readers naturally ask themselves what is the merit 
that is really meant to be attributed to a book which 
they are advised to read. We cannot fix the posi- 
tion of every good book, but still we may approxi- 
mate to doing so. Every now and then there is 
published a work, like " Esmond," or " Adam Bede," 
or "Martin Chuzzlewit," which is clearly first-rate, 
which becomes at once part of English literature, and 
helps to form the thought and style of a generation. 
On the other hand, there are every season published 
not only heaps of trashy stories, but a fair supply 
of readable, meritorious, creditable novels. Further, 
there are every year, or almost every year, published 
four or five really good novels, powerful in their way, 
new, or rather new, capable of making an impression 
and of suggesting thought. Such works do not 
generally raise an expectation that they will be 
handed down to any very late date ; but as they 
pass away, we feel that they are some of the best 

95 



The Saturday Review on Evan Harrington 

things that we reject and let float at once down 
the stream. Some of them may survive, for the 
judgment of contemporaries has often been reversed, 
and another generation may think even more of them 
than we do. But usually the contemporaries are 
right, and in the abundance of romances it is best 
they should be forgotten after they have given delight 
for a short time. To this class " Evan Harrington " 
seems to us to belong. It is not a great work, but 
it is a remarkable one, and deserves a front place in 
the literature that is ranked as avowedly not destined 
to endure. 



MODERN LOVE 



IX 

ALGERNON CHARLES SWINBURNE 

ON 

MODERN LOVE 

[This is Swinburne's reply to a review of " Modern Love " in The 
Spectator of May 24, 1862. It appeared in No. 1771 of that journal, 
pp. 632-633, on June 7, 1862.] 

MR. GEORGE MEREDITH'S "MODERN LOVE" 
(Letter to tJie Editor?) 

SIR, I cannot resist asking the favour of admission 
for my protest against the article on Mr. Meredith's 
last volume of poems in the Spectator of May 24th. 
That I personally have for the writings, whether 
verse or prose, of Mr. Meredith a most sincere and 
deep admiration is no doubt a matter of infinitely 
small moment. I wish only, in default of a better, 
to appeal seriously on general grounds against this 
sort of criticism as applied to one of the leaders of 
English literature. To any fair attack Mr. Mere- 
dith's books of course lie as much open as another 
man's ; indeed, standing where he does, the very 
eminence of his post makes him perhaps more liable 
than a man of less well-earned fame to the periodical 
slings and arrows of publicity. Against such criticism 

99 H 2 



Algernon Charles Swinburne 

no one would have a right to appeal, whether for 
his own work or for another's. But the writer of 
the article in question blinks at starting the fact that 
he is dealing with no unfledged pretender. Any 
work of a man who has won his spurs, and fought 
his way to a foremost place among the men of his 
time, must claim at least a grave consideration and 
respect. It would hardly be less absurd, in remark- 
ing on a poem by Mr. Meredith, to omit all refer- 
ence to his previous work, and treat the present 
book as if its author had never tried his hand at 
such writing before, than to criticize the "Legende 
des Siecles," or (coming to a nearer instance) the 
" Idylls of the King," without taking into account 
the relative position of the great English or the 
greater French poet. On such a tone of criticism as 
this any one who may chance to see or hear of it 
has a right to comment. 

But even if the case were different, and the 
author were now at his starting-point, such a review 
of such a book is surely out of date. Praise or 
blame should be thoughtful, serious, careful, when 
applied to a work of such subtle strength, such depth 
of delicate power, such passionate and various 
beauty, as the leading poem of Mr. Meredith's 
volume : in some points, as it seems to me (and in 
this opinion I know that I have weightier judgments 
than my own to back me) a poem above th aim and 
beyond the reach of any but its author, f Mr. Mere- 
dith is one of the three or four poets now arrve whose 
work, perfect or imperfect, is always as noble in 

100 



on Modern Love 



design as it is often faultless in result! The present 
critic falls foul of him for dealing wftlT" a deep and 
painful subject on which he has no conviction to 
express." There are pulpits enough for all preachers 
in prose ; the business of verse-writing is hardly 
to express convictions ; and if some poetry, not 
without merit of its kind, has at times dealt in dog- 
matic morality, it is all the worse and all the weaker 
for that. As to subject, it is too much to expect 
that all schools of poetry are to be for ever subor- 
dinate to the one just now so much in request with 
us, whose scope of sight is bounded by the nursery 
walls ; that all Muses are to bow down before her 
who babbles, with lips yet warm from their pristine 
pap, after the dangling delights of a child's coral ; 
and jingles with flaccid fingers one knows not 
whether a jester's or a baby's bells. We have not 
too many writers capable of duly handling a subject 
worth the serious interest of men. As to execution, 
take almost any sonnet at random out of the series, 
and let any man qualified to judge for himself of 
metre, choice of expression, and splendid language, 
decide on its claims. And, after all, the test will be 
unfair, except as regards metrical or pictorial merit ; 
every section of this great progressive poem being 
connected with the other by links of the finest and 
most studied workmanship. Take, for example, that 
noble sonnet, beginning 

" We saw the swallows gathering in the skies," 

a more perfect piece of writing no man alive has 

101 



Algernon Charles Swinburne 

ever turned out ; witness these three lines, the 
grandest perhaps of the book : 

" And in the largeness of the evening earth, 
Our spirit grew as we walked side by side ; 
The hour became her husband, and my bride ; " 

but in transcription it must lose the colour and 
effect given it by its place in the series ; the grave 
and tender beauty, which makes it at once a bridge 
and a resting-place between the admirable poems of 
passion it falls among. As specimens of pure power, 
and depth of imagination at once intricate and 
vigorous, take the two sonnets on a false passing 
reunion of wife and husband ; the sonnet on the 
rose ; that other beginning : 

" I am not of those miserable males 
Who sniff at vice, and daring not to snap, 
Do therefore hope for heaven." 

And, again, that earlier one : 

" All other joys of life he strove to warm." 

Of the shorter poems which give character to the 
book I have not space to speak here; and as the 
critic has omitted noticing the most valuable and 
important (such as the " Beggar's Soliloquy," and the 
" Old Chartist," equal to Be"ranger for completeness 
of effect and exquisite justice of style, but notice- 
able for a thorough dramatic insight, which Be"ranger 
missed through his personal passions and partiali- 
ties), there is no present need to go into the matter. 

1 02 



on Modern Love 



I ask you to admit this protest simply out of justice 
to the book in hand, believing as I do that it 
expresses the deliberate unbiassed opinion of a 
sufficient number of readers to warrant the insertion 
of it, and leaving to your consideration rather their 
claims to a fair hearing than those of the book's 
author to a revised judgment. A poet of Mr. 
Meredith's rank can no more be profited by the 
advocacy of his admirers than injured by the rash 
or partial attack of his critics. 

A, C. SWINBURNE. 



103 



EMILIA IN ENGLAND 



X 

RICHARD GARNETT 

ON 

EMILIA IN ENGLAND 

[This review, initialled " G.," appeared in The Reader, vol. Hi., No. 
69, pp. 514-515, April 23, 1864.] 

THE announcement of a new work by Mr. George 
Meredith is necessarily one to provoke much curiosity 
and expectation, since even a moderate approxima- 
tion to the end he has been wont to propose to 
himself implies unusual ability of an unusual descrip- 
tion. Mr. Meredith belongs to that select band of 
humorists who mainly rely for effect upon the 
pungency and piquancy of their diction, whether 
uttered in their own character, or placed in the 
mouths of their dramatis persona. Few writers 
indeed could dispose of resources adequate to so 
sustained a display of intellectual pyrotechnics as 
that which has now lasted Mr. Meredith through nine 
volumes. It is comparatively easy to devise humor- 
ous situations ; but this is farce. Mr. Meredith's 
works are the best modern representatives of the 
genteel comedy of a hundred and fifty years since. 
Incident and character are not neglected ; but both 

107 



Richard Garnett 



are subordinate to dialogue. The personages have 
their prototypes in nature, but are still somewhat 
idealised : they are like and not like people we have 
seen. They are rather types of character than 
individuals. Mask well in Congreve's comedy, for 
example, is a really scientific combination of the 
chief traits of a designing villain ; but we may 
perceive at once that these have been ingeniously 
put together in the study, not copied from the living 
model. It is a significant circumstance that all 
Congreve's plays were composed at an age when Mr. 
Meredith had hardly begun to write. The latter's 
experience of life is consequently much wider, and 
there is that in the genius of his time which causes 
him to be more solicitous about the truth of things. 
Nevertheless, next to the intellectual brilliancy of 
his writings, their most salient feature is their 
artificial aspect. A principle of intelligent selection 
seems to have presided over their genesis and 
development. The story is carefully chosen for the 
sake of some favourite idea snugly bedded in the 
centre of it a Psyche-germ, swathed in a rich cocoon 
of illustration. The personages are all selected with 
a similar view, and their sayings and doings meted 
out with the nicest accuracy. The style again is 
highly recherch> spiced with epigram, and elaborated 
even to obscurity. It might easily be surmised that 
Mr. Meredith experienced considerable difficulty in 
arraying his thoughts in their appropriate garment of 
speech, and that the frequent harshness of his expo- 
sition was the evidence of a victory won by a 

1 08 



on Emilia in England 



vigorous growth over an unkindly soil. Thus rich, 
original, strained, and artificial, the general effect of 
one of Mr. Meredith's novels is very much that of a 
fine landscape seen through tinted glass a pleasing 
variety, so long as there are plain windows in the 
house. To read Mr. Meredith in his turn is to season 
the feast of literature with an exquisite condiment ; 
to read nobody but Mr. Meredith would be like 
making a dinner of salt Attic, of course. 

" Emilia in England " is fully equal to the author's 
former works in humour and power, and only less 
remarkable in so far as it is less original. The plot 
is a variation on the theme of " Evan Harrington." 
The comedy of that admirable novel turned on the 
struggle of three sisters, upheaved into a higher than 
their natural sphere, with the demon of Tailordom ; 
their frantic efforts to entomb the monstrous corpse 
of their plebeian origin beneath the hugest available 
heaps of acted and spoken lies ; the vigorous resist- 
ance of that ghastly being to this method of disposing 
of him, and his victorious assertion of his right to 
walk the earth. The more serious interest arose from 
the entanglement of their straightforward brother in 
their web of imposition, not without the participation 
of the mischievous deity of Love. In " Emilia " we 
have three sisters again the Misses Pole Pole, 
Polar, and North Pole, or, as the profane have entitled 
them, Pole, Polony, and Maypole. The situation is 
fundamentally the same, but so far varied that the 
ladies have no chance of concealing their mercantile 
origin, of which, indeed, to do them justice, they are 

109 



Richard Garnett 



not ashamed. They simply wish to get higher, and, 
by way of justifying their ambition to themselves, 
have set up a fancied code of feelings supposed to be 
proper to the highest circles, to which, by way of 
demonstrating their fitness for the same, they make 
it the study of their lives to conform. 

" They went on perpetually mounting. It is still a good 
way from the head of the tallest of men to the stars ; so 
they had their work before them ; but, as they observed, 
they were young. To be brief, they were very ambitious 
damsels, aiming at they knew not exactly what, save that 
it was something so wide that it had not a name, and so 
high in air that no one could see it. They knew assuredly 
that their circle did not please them. So, therefore, they 
were constantly extending and refining it : extending it 
perhaps for the purpose of refining it. Their susceptibilities 
demanded that they should escape from a city circle. 
Having no mother, they ruled their father's house and him, 
and were at least commanders of whatsoever forces they 
could summon for the task. It may be seen that they were 
sentimentalists. That is to say, they supposed that they 
enjoyed exclusive possession of the Nice Feelings, and 
exclusively comprehended the Fine Shades. Whereof 
more will be said ; but in the mean time it will explain 
their propensity to mount; it will account for their 
irritation at the material obstructions surrounding them; 
and possibly the philosopher will now have his eye on the 
source of that extraordinary sense of superiority to mankind 
which was the crown of their complacent brows. Eclipsed 
as they may be in the gross appreciation of the world by 
other people, who excel in this and that accomplishment, 
persons that nourish the Nice Feelings and are intimate 
with the Fine Shades carry their own test of intrinsic value." 

HO 



on Emilia in England 



That is, they lived by a conventional rule, just as 
the baronet in Mr. Meredith's first novel brought up 
his son upon system. Mr. Meredith appears to 
entertain a special detestation for anything cut and 
dried, and the gist of his present work is a sarcastic 
but quiet exposure of the evil these ladies wrought 
against their better nature. The following passage 
will give some idea of what these worshippers of 
Fine Shades are called upon to endure : 

" At breakfast in the morning, it was the habit of all 
the ladies to assemble, partly to countenance the decency 
of matin-prayers, and also to give the head of the house- 
hold their dutiful society till business called him away. 
Adela, in earlier days, had maintained that early rising was 
not fashionable ; but she soon grasped the idea that a great 
rivalry with Fashion, in minor matters (where the support 
of the satirist might be counted on), was the proper policy 
of Brookfield. Mrs. Chump was given to be extremely 
fashionable in her hours, and began her Brookfield career 
by coming downstairs at ten and eleven o'clock, when 
she found a desolate table, well-stocked, indeed, but without 
any of the exuberant smiles of nourishment which a morn- 
ing repast should wear. ' You are a Protestant, ma'am, are 
you not?' Adela mildly questioned, after informing her 
that she missed family prayer by her late descent. Mrs, 
Chump assured her that she was a firm Protestant, and 
liked to see faces at the breakfast-table. The poor woman 
was reduced to submit to the rigour of the hour, coming 
down flustered, and endeavouring to look devout, while 
many uncertainties as to the condition of the looks of her 
attire distracted her mind and fingers. On one occasion, 
Gainsford, the footman, had been seen with his eye on 
her ; and while Mr. Pole read of sacred things, at a pace 

in 



Richard Garnett 



composed of slow march and amble, this unhappy man was 
heard struggling to keep under and extinguish a devil of 
laughter, by which his human weakness was shaken. He 
retired from the room with the speed of a voyager about to 
pay tribute on high seas. Mr. Pole cast a pregnant look 
towards the servants' row as he closed the book ; but the 
expression of his daughters' faces positively signified that 
no remark was to be made, and he contained himself. 
Later, the ladies told him that Gainsford had done no 
worse than any uneducated man would have been guilty of 
doing. Mrs. Chump had, it appeared, a mother's feeling 
for one flat curl on her rugged forehead, which was often 
fondly caressed by her, for the sake of ascertaining its 
fixity. Doubts of the precision of outline and general 
welfare of this curl, apparently, caused her to straighten her 
back and furtively raise her head, with an easy upward 
motion, as of a cork alighted in water, above the level of 
the looking-glass on her left hand an action she repeated, 
with a solemn aspect, four times ; at which point Gainsford 
gave way. The ladies accorded him every extenuation for 
the offence. They themselves, but for the heroism of 
exalted natures, must have succumbed to the gross tempta- 
tion. 'It is difficult, dear papa, to bring one's mind to 
religious thoughts in her company, even when she is 
quiescent,' they said. Thus, by the prettiest exercise of 
charity that can be conceived, they pleaded for the man 
Gainsford, while they struck a blow at Mrs. Chump ; and, 
in performing one of the virtues laid down by religion, 
proved their enemy to be hostile to its influences." 

Emilia Belloni, the heroine, is an entire contrast 
to the Miss Poles. She is in most respects a repeti- 
tion of Rose Jocelyn in " Evan Harrington "a 
pattern of pure nature, perfect guilelessness, absolute 

112 



on Emilia in England 



unreserve, and entire surrender to self-oblivious 
passion. She combines the unembarrassed purity of 
an antique statue with the fire of a painting of the 
modern school. She is most pathetic in her con- 
fiding simplicity in her frankness perfectly irresisti- 
ble. This complete self-abandonment is powerfully 
contrasted with Wilfrid Pole's merely sentimental 
feeling for the beautiful stranger, and paralleled with 
Merthyr Powys's devotion to the cause of Emilia's 
country. Here are the materials of an excellent 
drama ; and, though the interest of the book does 
not mainly depend upon the incidents, there are 
sufficient to prevent it from flagging to any great 
extent. The chief obstacles to its success will pro- 
bably be found in the peculiarity of the style, the 
quaintness (so pleasant to those who have once 
learned to relish it) of Mr. Meredith's habits of 
thought, and the idealisation of the characters. 
There is a soul of truth in them all ; but it is some- 
times rather grotesquely incarnated. A hostile 
criticism might enlarge on their unlikeness to ordi- 
nary mortals. The reply must be that they are 
meant to embody certain types of thought and 
feeling, and consequently rather made to order than 
sketched from the life. This employment of Mr. 
Meredith's talents is perfectly legitimate, especially 
after the proofs he has given of his ability to re- 
produce actual character with unimpaired effect. 
Observation alone could have furnished material for 
such vivid delineations as those of Mrs. Chump, in 
whose vicinity sentiment is barely possible, and Mr. 



Richard Garnett 



Pericles, Greek millionaire, musical bear, and bene- 
ficent ogre. Perhaps the scenes where he appears 
are the richest in a work scintillating throughout with 
wit and humour, nor yet devoid of patches of tender 
moonlight, like this last appearance of Emilia in 
England : 

" A sharp breath of air had passed along the dews, and 
all the young green of the fresh season shone in white 
jewels. The sky, set with very dim, distant stars, was in 
grey light round a small brilliant moon. Every space of 
earth lifted clear to her; the woodland listened; and in 
the bright silence the nightingale sang loud. 

" Emilia and Tracy Runningbrook were treading their 
way towards a lane over which great oak branches inter- 
volved; thence, under larches, all with glittering sleeves, 
and among spiky brambles, with the purple leaf and the 
crimson frosted. The frost on the edges of the brown- 
leaved bracken gave a faint colour. Here and there 
intense silver dazzled their eyes. As they advanced amid 
the icy hush, so hard and instant was the ring of the earth 
under them, their steps sounded as if expected. 

" ' This night seems made for me ! ' said Emilia. 

" Tracy had no knowledge of the object of the expedi- 
tion. He was her squire, simply ; had pitched on a sudden 
into an enamoured condition, and walked beside her, caring 
little whither he was led, so that she left him not. 

"They came upon a clearing in the wood where a 
tournament of knights might have been held. Ranged 
on two sides were rows of larches, and forward, fit to 
plume a dais, a clump of tall firs stood with a flowing 
silver fir to right and left, and the white stems of the birch 
tree shining from among them. This fair woodland court 
had three broad oaks, as for gateways ; and the moon was. 

114 



on Emilia in England 



above it. Moss and the frosted brown fern were its 
flooring. 

" Emilia said eagerly, ' This way,' and ran under one 
of the oaks. She turned to Tracy, following : ' There is 
no doubt of it.' Her hand was lying softly on her throat. 

" ' Your voice ? ' Tracy divined her. 

"She nodded, but frowned lovingly at the shout he 
raised; and he understood that there was haply some 
plot to be worked out. The open space was quite luminous 
in the middle of those three deep walls of shadow. Emilia 
enjoined him to rest where he was, and wait for her on 
that spot like a faithful sentinel, whatsoever ensued. Coax- 
ing his promise, she entered the square of white light alone. 
Presently she stood upon a low mound, so that her whole 
figure was distinct, while the moon made her features 
visible. 

" Expectancy sharpened the stillness to Tracy's ears. 
A nightingale began the charm. He was answered by 
another. Many were soon in song, till even the pauses 
were sweet with them. Tracy had the thought that they 
were calling for Emilia to commence ; that it was nature 
preluding the divine human voice, weaving her spell for it. 
He was seized by a thirst to hear the adorable girl, who 
stood there patiently, with her face lifted soft in moon- 
light. And then the blood thrilled along his veins, as if 
one more than mortal had touched him. It seemed to 
him long, before he knew that Emilia's voice was in the 
air." 



RHODA FLEMING 



XI 
THE SATURDAY REVIEW 

ON 

RHODA FLEMING 

[From The Saturday Review, vol. 20, No. 520, October 14, 1865, 
pp. 489-490-] 

IT is a great comfort to those who admire manly 
thinking and good English to find that Mr. Meredith 
has, for a time at least, abandoned the over-subtle 
and unfruitful speculations upon character and society 
which made his last novel a peculiarly conspicuous 
instance of both originality and labour failing to 
redeem the prime mistake of an ill-chosen theme. 
There are so few writers who combine creative power 
with that faculty of a large and liberal observation 
of life which alone can make their creations real or 
worth studying, that one grudges anything like waste 
of a kind of ability so uncommon. Mr. Meredith no 
doubt takes a high place among novelists of this 
rank. In all his books he introduces us to fresh 
and vigorously drawn characters. He never resorts 
to the "common form" of fiction. The mass of 
novels are like a very select circle in society ; night 
after night, though the names and dresses and scenes 

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are slightly changed, the reader meets exactly the 
same set of people, and they all talk in exactly the 
same fashion, and do the same sort of things. It is 
something for which to be grateful to find a writer 
who has the power, and takes the trouble, to exhibit 
new characters ; and to exhibit them, moreover, as 
doing and feeling what they would do and feel in 
the ordinary human way, not as if they were visibly 
playing at being characters in a novel. Besides this, 
Mr. Meredith has the excellent negative quality of 
abstaining from superfluous and unprovoked padding. 
He does not deny himself frequent asides though 
they are rarer in "Rhoda Fleming" than in his previous 
books but then these asides are not digressions on 
things in general. They spring easily from the action 
of the story, and we are not sent clean out of our 
track and then back into it again by two violent 
jolts. Of course, in escaping from the vices or 
feebleness of ordinary fiction, it was not to be 
expected that Mr. Meredith should altogether avoid 
the invention of one or two vices of his own. He is 
occasionally obscure in his reflections, carrying his 
reader too hastily forward over stony places and up 
steep ascents of argument, and landing him breathless 
he scarce knows where. A plain man has a desire, 
perhaps a weak one, to see the path by which he has 
been transported into unfamiliar regions, but Mr. 
Meredith inconsiderately argues in seven-league 
boots. The fault is the natural result of one of 
his chief excellences. He has such a complete and 
personal intimacy with the people of his story, he 

1 20 



on Rhoda Fleming 



realizes so vividly to himself their characteristics and 
the effects of the situation upon them, as to forget 
that the reader of a novel knows nothing about the 
personages who act in it beyond what the author 
chooses to tell them. We require to have a very 
great deal told us about a man whose character we 
are asked to understand, when we only know him 
through the imperfectly conducting medium of print. 
The same vividness of conception on the part of the 
author may perhaps account for the oblique way in 
which the incidents of the story are revealed. We 
seem to be too often introduced to the effect before 
getting any insight into the cause. The author has 
fully pictured the incident to his own mind, and then 
hastens to consider its consequences upon the cha- 
racter whom it concerns, the reader meanwhile rather 
wondering what it is all about, and what has happened. 
One or two things are scarcely made clear at all. 
What Mrs. Lovell and Major Waring had done in 
India, and what was the secret of the blood-stained 
handkerchief, are things only divulged to us very 
dimly, and left vague even to the very end. Obviously 
it is not pleasant to see the play through a film. 

But these passing obscurities may well be for- 
gotten in the vigorous and impressive painting of the 
more prominent figures, as well as in the admirable 
manliness with which Mr. Meredith has treated a 
situation that is commonly made the occasion either 
of sermonizing or of sentimentalism. The author 
declines to win popularity by either of these favourite 
and infallible devices. A girl who has been seduced 

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is not, to him, a person whom, as an artist, it is his 
business either to preach over or to cry over. It 
may be the duty of the parson to moralize about the 
falling away ; and, on the other hand, a great many 
people like to have the woman who has committed 
this particular offence against society written about 
in a tone of mingled pity and pruriency, a mixture 
of snivelling and sniffing. With all this the artist has 
nothing to do. It is not his part to pass sentence for 
sins against society, nor to surround the sinner with 
all manner of artificial saintly crowns and heavenly 
haloes. To him the woman who sacrifices herself for 
passion is what she is, and no more. Much of her 
worth may survive, or she may be as unworthy after 
a fall as she was before. One must look at her with 
" rightful manliness " without " those false sensa- 
tions, peculiar to men, concerning the soiled purity 
of women, the lost innocence, the brand of shame 
upon her, which are commonly the foul sentimental- 
ism of such as can be too eager in the chase of 
corruption when occasion suits, and are another side 
of pruriency, not absolutely foreign to the best of us 
in our youth." " The young man who can look upon 
them we call fallen women with a noble eye is to my 
mind he that is most nobly begotten of the race, and 
likeliest to be the sire of a noble line." In the same 
way, the stern sister is drawn without a touch of 
exaggeration in the direction either of sympathy or 
caricature. Rhoda's conviction that her sister in 
spite of all appearances is married, and her anger 
with anybody who ventures to hold the more probable 

122 



on Rhoda Fleming 



opinion, are brought out with remarkable truth. 
In the days of their youth she and her sister had 
accidental occasion to ponder much on the harshness 
with which the village had treated a luckless girl 
who had returned to it with a blemished name. 
" They could not fathom the meaning of their father's 
unkindness, coarseness, and indignation. Why and 
why ? they asked one another blankly. The Scrip- 
tures were harsh in one part, but was the teaching to 
continue so after the atonement?" Then, in years 
after, when Dahlia's name became spotted, " the old 
and deep grievance in her heart as to what men 
thought of women and as to the harshness of men " 
was strongly stirred up. Her intense faith in her 
sister, and her resolute facing of the suspicions to 
which men's mean natures prompted them, furnish 
the key to the first half of her action in the story. 
This faith, indeed, is the only quality which keeps 
Rhoda from being too absolutely cold and passionless 
to be either truthfully drawn or interesting. When 
the fatal fact is forced upon her, and a chance of 
marriage is offered to her sister, the instinct which 
their Hebrew religious teaching implants in most 
English girls of strong nature impels her remorse- 
lessly to drive the fallen creature to the only step 
which can set her erect again before the world, 
though permanent wretchedness should be the clear 
result. She knows that "it is a good and precious 
thing to do right," and this is the one item of belief 
and knowledge to which she holds fast. And even 
when she finds that she has thus inflicted a curse 

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The Saturday Review 



upon her sister, " she had still a feeling of the harsh 
joy peculiar to those who have exercised command 
with a conscious righteousness upon wilful, sinful, and 
errant spirits, and have thwarted the wrongdoer." 
But by an excellent touch by which the author 
shows the thoroughness and pliancy of his concep- 
tion she tries in vain to console herself in reflecting 
that the doom had been righteously executed when 
the unhappy Dahlia is before her. " Away from the 
tragic figure in the room, she might have thought so, 
but the horror in the eyes and voice of this awakened 
Sacrifice struck away the support of theoretic justifi- 
cation. Great pity for the poor enmeshed life, help- 
less there, and in woman's worst peril looking either 
to madness or to death for an escape drowned her 
reason in a heavy cloud of tears." 

The weaker sort of novelist generally prides him- 
self amazingly on what he deems the consistency of 
his characters. That is, he first casts them in a 
mould, rigidly and unchangeably formed, and they 
move to and fro on the scene like figures of iron 
propelled in one inevitable direction by interior 
clockwork. But Mr. Meredith is wholly free from 
this barren and enfeebling notion. Rhoda is stern, 
earnest, of the Hebrew or Puritanic complexion. 
But she is incredulous of her sister's sin for all that. 
Even when it is proved, she has no hard reproaches 
for the sinner. And a confidence in what her creed 
and custom have taught her to look on as the 
righteous course does not shut her heart up against 
sympathy with the creature upon whom the righteous 

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on Rhoda Fleming 



course as is too often its wont has brought un- 
utterable wretchedness. This flexibility of a distinctly 
drawn character before changing circumstances is an 
effect which our novelists rarely attempt. Mr. Mere- 
dith in all his books is particularly fond of tracing 
these variations. He places his personages in a 
number of given situations, and seems as it were to 
watch, almost for his own diversion, the development 
of character which ensues. The reader is persuaded 
that the growth of the hero or heroine's nature is 
spontaneous, though under the influence of surround- 
ing things ; and this, in its own way, is a very distinct 
triumph of art. In the character of Edward Blancove 
the author produces the same effect of movement, 
but, as it appears to us, with less success. The pivots 
on which the movement turns are less intelligible and 
less natural. Witty, selfish, half-cynical, to begin 
with, he is somehow overwhelmed by a moral revo- 
lution which leaves him devoted, and, indeed, on one 
occasion absolutely pious. The reader may complain 
that nothing through the first volume and a half 
furnishes even a hint that at bottom Edward has the 
smallest richness of nature, and that nothing has 
happened to produce so sudden a development of 
fine qualities. The ambitious and highly-cultivated 
young man is, we know, apt to react against the 
impulses both of ambition and of intellectual fastidi- 
ousness, and, when in the mood, to sacrifice prospects 
and everything else to a yearning for simplicity and 
a kind of virtuousness. But it is hard to see why 
inability to fathom the depths of Mrs, Lovell's 

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The Saturday Review 



character should make Edward write to Dahlia : 
"And I, who have sinned against my innocent 
darling, will ask her to pray with me that our future 
may be one, so that I may make good to her what 
she has suffered, and to the God whom we worship 
the offence I have committed." 

Mr. Meredith's exclusive devotion to play of 
character would seem to lie at the root of what is his 
chief defect weakness of construction. His situa- 
tions hang too loosely together. Provided he can 
make his characters grow and move, provided he 
can throw a sufficient variety of light and colour 
over them, he is comparatively indifferent to the 
close coherence of his incidents, or to anything like 
a compact and finished story. There is unquestion- 
ably something exceedingly poor in the popular 
craving for a minute final account of what becomes 
of everybody who has figured ever so slightly in the 
story. A novelist does well to refuse to go through 
a muster-roll of his characters at the end of the third 
volume, sending all the bad people into misery, and 
rewarding all the good people by happy lives ever 
after. This makes the whole thing so plainly and 
horribly artificial that we cannot expect a writer who 
claims a place among artists to institute this sort of 
parade. Still, Mr. Meredith leaves us a little too 
abruptly. It seems as if he had got as much amuse- 
ment for himself as he wished out of the movements 
of his characters, and then had ceased to take interest 
in what might become of them. The reader may be 
pardoned for feeling rather less like an Epicurean 

126 



on Rhoda Fleming 



god. Mr. Meredith has the art of drawing men and 
women so like flesh and blood that we naturally have 
at least a human interest in their fate. 

There are in " Rhoda Fleming " some admirably 
fresh and vigorous sketches of country life and nature. 
The father of Rhoda is an excellent specimen of the 
sturdy British yeoman, whose ideas are very few and 
very simple, but obstinate and deep-rooted in pro- 
portion. He is overwhelmingly grateful, and even 
respectful, to the man who marries his daughter, 
though he knows him to be a villain ; and he insists 
on her joining her husband, though her joining him 
means certain and enduring misery. All this makes 
us dreadfully angry, but it is uncommonly true to 
rural nature. The scene at the Pilot Inn, too, is 
exquisitely humorous and truthful. So are the minor 
characters of Mrs. Sumfit and Master Gammon, the 
two old farm-servants. The latter is really inimitable. 
Dahlia is lying ill up-stairs : 

"Nevertheless, the sight of Master Gammon was like 
a comforting medicine to all who were in the house. He 
was Mrs. Sumfit's clock; he was balm and blessedness in 
Rhoda's eyes; Anthony was jealous of him; the farmer 
held to him as to a stake in the ground ; even Robert, who 
rallied and tormented, and was vexed by him, admitted 
that he stood some way between an example and a warning^ 
and was a study. The grand primaeval quality of unchange- 
ableness as exhibited by this old man affected them singu- 
larly in their recovery from the storm and the wreck of the 
hours gone by; so much so that they could not divest 
themselves of the idea that it was a manifestation of power 
in Master Gammon to show forth undisturbed while they 

127 



The Saturday Review on Rhoda Fleming 

were feeling their life shaken in them to the depths. I 
have never had the opportunity of examining the idol- 
worshipping mind of a savage ; but it seems possible that 
the immutability of aspect of his little wooden god may 
sometimes touch him with a similar astounded awe ; even 
when, and indeed especially after, he has thrashed it. Had 
the old man betrayed his mortality in a sign of curiosity to 
know why the hubbub of trouble had arisen, and who was 
to blame, and what was the story, the effect on them would 
have been diminished. He really seemed granite among 
the turbulent waves. ' Give me Gammon's life ! ' was father 
Fleming's prayerful interjection ; seeing him come and go, 
sit at his meals, and sleep and wake in season, all through 
those tragic hours of suspense, without a question to 
anybody. Once or twice, when his eye fell upon the doctor, 
Master Gammon appeared to meditate." 

Algernon Blancove is a capital study of the minor 
rank. "This youth is one of great Nature's tom- 
fools, an elegant young gentleman outwardly, of the 
very large class who are simply the engines of their 
appetites, and to the philosophic eye still run wild 
in woods." However, "the most worthless creature 
is most serviceable for examination, when the micro- 
scope is applied to them [it ?], as a simple study of 
human mechanism." This sentence may be said to 
be the secret of Mr. Meredith's workmanship. It is 
essentially microscopic, and those who have a suffici- 
ently strong taste for art to relish such studies will find 
" Rhoda Fleming " very well worth reading. Besides 
this, the story itself is eminently interesting almost 
too interesting, in fact, to leave us tranquil enough 
for the appreciation of the more substantial part 

128 



XII 

THE MORNING POST 

ON 

RHODA FLEMING 

[The Manager of The Morning Post states that according to the 
marked file of his journal this review was written by a Mr. Hume. It 
was printed in the issue of October 18, 1865, No. 28,658, p. 2.] 

MR. MEREDITH'S story is one of those clever social 
portrait-albums that are taken up, not by the thought- 
less and idle, but by men and women of genius, 
intellect and cultivation. It would be impossible to 
find a novel of the last few years in which more 
attention has been given to a careful study of human 
nature, and with such marked success, as in the pages 
of " Rhoda Fleming." The most insignificant portrait 
may be examined separately, and it will be found to 
contain subject-matter for analysis and reflection. 
Every phase of society is depicted from the baronet 
banker to the low, cunning pot-house frequenter. 
High and low, rich and poor, farmer and fop, have 
all their places in Mr. Meredith's gallery ; and to say 
that not one is distorted by over-colouring is giving 
him the highest commendation it is possible to 
bestow. Mrs. Lovell, the gay, fashionable, captivating, 

129 K 



The Morning Post 



extravagant, good-natured widow, may be seen every 
day and night of the London season. Edward 
and Algernon will be found in chambers at the 
Temple, or strolling down Pall-mall between four 
and five p.m. daily. Dahlia is a true but sad picture 
of the sufferings of one who has gone astray from the 
paths of virtue, and excites the keenest pity and 
admiration in the reader the former, because her 
sorrows and trials are told with such deep feeling ; 
the latter, because the sketch is so painfully and 
vividly real The simplicity and innocence of 
Farmer Fleming are exactly what might be ex- 
pected from one whose knowledge of London 
consists in knowing little more than that there is 
such a place, and that it contains an immense 
number of houses, a terrific number of men, women, 
children, and horses, and a very large share of iniquity. 
His ignorance of the world and the pitfalls and snares 
that surround youth, and his stolid determination, in 
spite of everything, to believe his daughter an innocent 
woman, until at last the horrible fact becomes too 
patent to be longer concealed, are amongst the most 
pleasing traits of his character. This refusal to believe 
Dahlia guilty is also beautifully shown in Rhoda 
Fleming, his other daughter, who nobly battles on 
behalf of her fallen sister, and devotes her life during 
the hours of tribulation at the farm to comfort and 
solace the old man. The contrast between Farmer 
Fleming and his cunning brother-in-law, Mr. Anthony 
Hackbut, a porter in a London bank, who delights in 
deceiving his country relative into the belief that he 
130 



on Rhoda Fleming 



holds some dignified position in Boyne's, and is worth 
enough sovereigns to buy up Queen Anne's farm twice 
over, is very artistically worked out. Indeed, the 
author seems to have made old Hackbut his favourite 
character, for there is even a greater degree of finish 
in his portrait than in the others, clever and complete 
as they all undoubtedly are. The eccentricity of 
Hackbut is not forced, and no unworthy tricks are 
resorted to to make him attractive. And this is 
one of the most commendable features in all Mr. 
Meredith's writings he prefers rather to let an 
interest and affection spring up between his readers 
and his characters that gradually ripens into admi- 
ration, than to invest them with an immediate halo 
of romance which, nine times out of ten, ends in 
disgust. He never descends to the low level of those 
excitement-mongers who make a bloodthirsty black- 
guard and an unscrupulous villain a hero, nor does 
he exalt his fallen heroine into an angel more sinned 
against than sinning. True it is that illness, and 
penury, and misery are the forerunners of a sincere 
repentance with Dahlia Fleming, and that one is 
compelled to feel sympathy for her, but it is the 
healthy sympathy that suggests, plans, and carries 
out those excellent midnight meetings of the present 
day that are such an honour to the metropolis, not 
any morbid craving after the improper. Her con* 
trition is not exaggerated, and she stands prominently 
forward as "a warning to deter," rather than an 
example to imitate and when, at the close of the 
story, she resolutely refuses to marry her repentant 



The Morning Post 



seducer, and determines to devote the remainder of 
her life to pious and good deeds, the author has 
shown his desire to paint life in its true colours, and 
not to adopt the orthodox system of marrying off 
the principal actors without any respect to decency 
or probability. 

Robert Eccles and his father Jonathan are two 
more characters that must be signalled out for special 
mention. The former is not only vigorously con- 
ceived, but Mr. Meredith never introduces him 
without creating for him some highly dramatic situa- 
tion. Thus, for instance, when the quiet, sedate 
young apprentice at Queen Anne's farm suddenly 
reveals himself in his true colours to Rhoda Fleming, 
at a moment when disgrace has come upon the 
family, when he pleads his love and is met with a 
coldness that would have chilled one of less firm a 
disposition, the author could not have conceived 
a more striking point had he been desirous of 
writing the most telling situation of a domestic 
drama. There is a great deal that is lovable about 
Robert Eccles, despite his weakness for drink and 
his general reckless conduct. Something in him 
reminds one of Mr. Jefferson's able delineation of 
Rip Van Winkle ; and if the novel had appeared later, 
Mr. Meredith might possibly have been told that he 
had taken the clever American actor as a model. 
Jonathan Eccles plays a subordinate part, but he 
never comes upon the stage without impressing the 
reader with his life-like ideality. A few of the more 
prominent characters only have been dealt with in 

132 



on Rhoda Fleming 



this notice, though each one is well deserving of 
separate framing. There will be many probably 
who will complain of the occasional difficulty in 
following the thread of the story. This is the 
author's weak point, which no doubt in future works 
will entirely disappear. His fancy is so prolific, his 
humour so genuine, and his command of language 
so great that he gives rein to his pen, and goes 
bounding along, carrying his reader with him until 
he suddenly finds " a check," and has to retrace his 
steps to pick up "the secret." But when found he 
starts off again, and one of the best of his many 
admirable points is that he never stumbles into the 
dulness of ditch water, or rushes at a gate whose 
bars are the cardinal vices. In these days of murder, 
bigamy, forgery, and bastardy his book comes like 
a fresh, healthy, invigorating breeze from the country, 
and any minor faults that it may contain will be 
cheerfully forgiven on account of the honest en- 
thusiasm and the vigorous style in which he depicts 
scenes of English country life. It is true that he 
does not make a fast young lady push any one 
down a well, that strychnine and nux vomica are 
not introduced into any of his pages, and that 
bigamy is only administered in a very small dose 
indeed ; but, for all that, " Rhoda Fleming " never 
flags in interest, and it may be added what can be 
said of few novels that many a profitable lesson may 
be learnt from its perusal. Mr. Meredith may be cor- 
dially congratulated on having produced a story with 
so few blemishes and so many excellent qualities. 

133 



VITTORIA 



XIII 

THE SATURDAY REVIEW 

ON 

VITTORIA 

[From The Saturday Review, vol. 23, No. 588, pp. 149-150, 
February 2, 1867.] 

IT is a somewhat difficult task to give a fair review 
of a book in which there is apparently a wide dis- 
proportion between the expenditure of ability and 
the result obtained. In the not uncommon case 
where the popularity of an author exceeds what 
would seem to be his due, the critic cannot but feel 
a certain diffidence ; he may be demolishing a wind- 
bag, but, on the other hand, he may be merely 
giving another example of the occasional inferiority 
of the cultivated to the popular judgment. Con- 
temporary reviews of Keats and Wordsworth still 
unpleasantly shake the general belief in critical 
infallibility. In the reverse case the task is less 
invidious. A compliment thrown away can at any 
rate do no harm ; but there is still an unpleasant 
sensation that there must be some undiscovered 
flaw in the criticism. It is the exception for a 
writer to display much ability in any direction 

137 



The Saturday Review 



without obtaining a fair amount of recognition, and 
it is therefore incumbent upon any one who asserts 
the existence of talent which has failed of due 
appreciation to point out the circumstances to which 
the failure is due. This is a short statement of the 
duty we have to discharge to Mr. Meredith. There can 
be no mistake either as to his abilities, or as to his 
failure in obtaining a corresponding place in popular 
esteem. In "Vittoria," which is just republished 
from the Fortnightly Review, he has shown as much 
power of thought and style as would fit out a dozen 
writers of sensation novels. There is scarcely a page 
in which there is not evidence of originality, and, 
what is much rarer, of conscientious labour, often 
skilfully applied. The conversations, instead of being 
the slipshod collections of says-he's and says-she's 
with which most novelists eke out their narrow 
materials, are only too pointed and vigorous for the 
interlocutors. Almost every character stands out 
distinctly and forcibly ; some show great originality 
of conception. The descriptions, again, of natural 
scenery are really picturesque and compact, instead 
of being diluted verbiage spun out at random. Yet, 
with all these merits, and we might conscientiously 
speak of others, we fear that Mr. Meredith's novel 
has the unmistakable fault of being hard to read. 
It is often so clever as to be on the verge of genius, 
but somehow we don't get on with it. It is a suc- 
cession of brilliancies which are never fused into a 
brilliant whole ; and it is cram full of smart sayings 
which have an awkward way of just stopping short 

138 



on Vittoria 

of the intelligible. We have, in short, that un- 
pleasant sensation which is sometimes produced by 
the talk of a very clever man who wants to be a 
little cleverer still, who overstrains himself in the 
effort to be exceedingly smart, and ends by talking 
something which neither he nor his company quite 
understand, which simple persons assume to be 
wonderful because it is not quite intelligible, and 
which nobody finds to be genuinely entertaining. 

The first thing which strikes the reader, in con- 
sidering this phenomenon, is the curious nature of 
Mr. Meredith's style. It gives us the impression of 
prose striving to be poetry. It has the compressions, 
the odd turns, and sometimes almost the rhythm of 
poetry, though it never quite gets its feet off the 
ground. To quote a few sentences almost at random, 
a man is described as "flashing a white fist and 
thumping the long projection of his knee with a 
wolfish aspect." With an imperceptible change this 
might be a fragment of blank verse. A woman lifted 
over a precipice "felt the saving hold of her feet 
plucked from her, with all the sinking horror, and 
bit her underlip, as if keeping in the scream with 
bare stitches." Then we are told that "the pale 
spiked dialogue broke, not to be revived " ; we hear 
of a "spirit writhing in the serpent coil of fiery 
blushes " ; or are informed concerning a gentleman 
who had good reasons for feeling that the hours 
passed slowly, that "the face of time had been 
imaged like the withering masque of a corpse to 
him." These sentences may perhaps read, in their 

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The Saturday Review 



detached shape, something like the ordinary fine 
writing of inferior novelists ; but in fact they are 
genuine attempts to express something forcibly, and 
seem to be natural in Mr. Meredith. The only fault 
we find with them is that they imply an effort to put 
more into a quiet prose sentence than it can contain, 
with the natural result of making it cramped and 
uncomfortable. A similar defect may be traced in 
Mr. Meredith's dialogues. As we have said, they are 
never trivial or commonplace. His characters do 
not talk, as Mr. Trollope's so often contrive to do, 
down half a page in asking for a cup of tea or a rail- 
way-ticket. But their smart sayings are so full of 
epigram and hidden allusion and indirect satire that 
we often feel a little oppressed by their wisdom, and 
venture to doubt whether Mr. Meredith quite under- 
stands it himself. Here is a bit of the " pale spiked 
dialogue." Some one mentions, with a hidden 
sarcasm, that bullfinches should be fed on grapes 
before singing. Another replies : 

" ' To make them exhibit the results, you withdraw the 
benefit suddenly, of course ? ' 

" ' We imitate the general run of Fortune's gifts as much 
as we can,' said Merthyr. 

" ' That is the training for little shrill parrots ; we have 
none in Italy,' Laura sighed, mock dolefully ; ' I fear the 
system would fail among us.' 

" ' It certainly would not build Como villas,' said Lena. 

" Laura cast sharp eyes on her pretty face. 

" ' It is adapted for caged voices that are required to 
chirrup to tickle the ears of boors.' " 

140 



on Vittoria 

We fully admit that this sarcasm is so refined as to 
be almost beyond us. If we had room for the con- 
text, our readers might be quicker ; meanwhile we 
can only mention that it has some reference to an 
Italian cantatrice who is present. The defect in this 
writing is obvious; it is laborious, and yet the 
labour has not been carried far enough. A little 
less effort might have left it easy ; a little more 
might possibly make it at once polished and intel- 
ligible. It is a great mistake, in blacking boots, 
to leave off just before they begin to shine, for 
then all the previous labour is thrown away ; in 
literature it seems to be not merely thrown away, 
but actually prejudicial. The truth seems to be 
that Mr. Meredith has one of those restless minds 
which have an ever exaggerated fear of becoming 
a bore. There is no due repose in his writing ; and 
yet, though he is always bristling with point, he 
has hardly enough patience to obtain a thoroughly 
satisfactory result. 

When we come to his plot and his characters, a 
similar weakness appears even more decidedly. The 
plot is by far the weakest part of the book. We 
have studied it with due attention, but must confess 
ourselves baffled. The main design is indeed evident 
enough. Vittoria is a noble Italian woman with a 
marvellous voice. She is to give a signal at the 
opera for the rising in Milan during the troubles of 
1849. The signal rather misses fire, owing to a 
bewildering complication of plots and counterplots, 
and Vittoria is herself suspected ; she is, however, 

141 



The Saturday Review 



loved by a young noble who has joined the con- 
spiracy; and, after a variety of troubles during 
Charles Albert's struggle against Austria, she marries 
him. He throws himself into Brescia previously to 
its bombardment, and shortly after the battle of 
Novara is captured by an Austrian detachment and 
shot. Before this point is reached there has been a 
whirl of Italian patriots, spies, and conspirators, of 
Austrian officers and duchesses, and of English 
tourists, working out all kinds of complicated 
schemes, which absolutely makes the brain giddy. 
To determine who is wanting to do what, at any 
given moment, is as difficult an intellectual employ- 
ment as hunting out a railway puzzle in Bradshaw 
or solving a chess problem. The relations of every 
one to his or her neighbour depend upon so many 
delicate strings that we should be quite content to 
take Mr. Meredith's own account of their purposes. 
But here he unfortunately fails us ; he has evidently 
studied his own plot so carefully that it probably 
seems as plain to him as the chess problem would 
to Mr. Morphy. He can work it, so to speak, with- 
out seeing the board ; whereas we should require a 
careful study before we could call to mind the relative 
action of the pieces. And thus he makes demands 
upon the attention of his readers of which he is 
probably not aware. Indeed, he is so familiar with 
the incidents that he sometimes forgets to make 
them plain, even when he is relating them. Thus 
an important scene is described as follows Rinaldo, 
we should say, being a conspirator, and presumably 

142 



on Vittoria 

an assassin, in Austrian hands, and the woman an 
Italian acquaintance : 

" Then a procession walked some paces on. The woman 
followed. She fell prostrate at the feet of Count Karl (the 
Austrian commander). He listened to her and nodded. 
Rinaldo stood alone with bandaged eyes. The woman 
advanced to him ; she put her mouth on his ear ; there she 
hung. Vittoria heard a single shot. Rinaldo lay stretched 
upon the ground, and the woman stood over him." 

We confess that, after reading this account carefully, 
we could not make out what had happened. And 
our perplexity was not quite dispelled until the end 
of the next volume, in spite of one intermediate ex- 
planation. It then turned out that the woman, who 
was a great admirer of Rinaldo, had shot him by 
leave of Count Karl, to save him from the shame of 
execution ; and, further, that this benevolent action 
had been imposed upon her by her husband, who 
was a great conspirator, as a punishment for having 
previously disobeyed him in helping Rinaldo to 
escape. Now this is a dramatic incident, and one 
which, in the hands of many writers, would have led 
up to absurd sensational writing. That would doubt- 
less have been objectionable, but it is as unreasonable 
in a different way to tell the story so that we don't 
quite know whether it has happened or not. 

The difficulty thus produced in following Mr. 
Meredith is aggravated in still another way. The 
characters, as we have said, are really very clever, 
and some perhaps deserve a stronger epithet. But 

143 



The Saturday Review 



we must really object to the eccentric way in which 
they make their exits and their entrances. Some of 
them are formally introduced to us in the good old- 
fashioned way, and we feel that it is our own fault if 
we do not afterwards succeed in identifying them. 
But others drop in, as it were, accidentally, and the 
reader is expected to be perfectly familiar with their 
tastes and peculiarities. Some of them, it seems, 
have appeared in a former novel of Mr. Meredith's, 
but that is no justification for spoiling one which 
should be complete in itself. As we have, we must 
confess, the misfortune of not being familiar with 
" Emilia Wyndham," we cannot explain the evident 
affection with which the author regards certain sub- 
ordinate actors in the story. Their previous history 
may be a sufficient justification to Mr. Meredith 
himself, but it is an artistic fault when the first and 
second conspirators and all the mere walking gentle- 
men are portrayed with as much care as the hero and 
heroine. It adds to the distracting effect of the plot, 
of which we never know very well what is the main 
thread and what is merely incidental, that we are in 
equal ignorance as to the relative importance of the 
characters. The interest is too much dispersed 
already by the nature of the story, and this system 
tends rather to increase the dispersion. With all 
this fault-finding, however, we must add that the 
characters are, in our opinion, the strongest point of 
Mr. Meredith's very clever, though rather unreadable, 
performance, and that if two or three of them were 
extracted from the labyrinth in which they are 

144 



on Vittoria 

placed, and set to turn some simple machinery, they 
would make a far more interesting story. 

We must conclude by one more very obvious 
though unfavourable piece of criticism ; which is, 
that a writer imposes a great additional burden upon 
himself when he takes for the scene of his story a 
country and time with which most of his readers are 
little familiar, and as to which to state a far more 
important objection his own mind can scarcely be 
saturated with knowledge up to the proper point. 
The greater triumphs of fiction are certainly won on 
ground with which both writers and readers are 
thoroughly familiar, and it wants no great philosophy 
to see the reason. Mr. Meredith, already so incom- 
prehensible to the vulgar, can scarcely afford to carry 
extra wefght without absolute necessity. 



145 



XIV 
GERALDINE ENDSOR JEWSBURY 

ON 

VITTORIA 

[From The AtAentzum, No. 2052, February 23, 1867, pp, 248- 
249.] 

"VlTTORlA" is the continuation of a work by the same 
author, published some years ago, called "Emilia in 
England." The same characters are introduced ; but, 
with the exception of Emilia herself, who is again 
the heroine, under the name of Vittoria, the leading 
personages of the former novel are mere accessories 
to the present story. Wilfred Pole, who was Emilia's 
lover, and who did not behave very chivalrously, is, as 
Wilfred Pierson, a lieutenant in the Austrian service, 
a useful subordinate in the drama. The present 
novel is the whole drama of the Italian rising in 
1848, carried along from its outbreak until the fatal 
battle of Novara. The work evinces knowledge on 
the part of the author of Italian life as well as of 
Italian revolutionary politics. All the documents, 
letters, intentions, and counter-intentions, of the 
centres and head-centres of the revolution, seem to 
have been laid at the author's disposal, and he, to judge 

146 



Geraldine Endsor Jewsbury on Vittoria 

by the result in his book, must have made a good 
use of them. The seething and surging of the revolu- 
tionary movement are well caught ; but the reader 
is lost in the maze of events, and confused by the 
movements hither and thither of the excited actors, 
both Austrian and Italian. There are dramas within 
dramas ; hopes and fears, loves and hatreds, private 
and political ; the movements of armies ; " trumpets, 
alarums, excursions and retreats," battles, single 
combats, not a few duels, to say nothing of the 
histories, tales and reports told by one person to 
others with the vehemence of intense personality. 
The personages of the drama, or rather panorama, 
get incidentally involved in events, which are life or 
death to the parties concerned, but which have only 
a slight bearing on the fortunes of the story. Such is 
Wilfred Pierson's night adventure, when he is forced 
to enter a house to assist the Austrian lover of an 
Italian lady to escape from the men who have 
surrounded the house to kill him as he comes out. 
No mortal memory can keep in mind the Lauras, 
the Amalias, the Leckensteins, the Violettas, the 
Austrians pure and simple, the Austrianized Italians, 
the prudent Italians, the patriots, the conspirators. 
Opera politics and intrigues are superadded; for is 
there not a Signora Irma de Karski, a rival prima 
donna, who hates Vittoria as a woman and a singer 1 
How are human beings with limited faculties to under- 
stand all the distracting threads of this unmerciful 
novel ? But, then, by way of compensation, each 
episode has its own interest, and the most insignificant 

147 



Geraldine Endsor Jewsbury 



personage has the stamp of being a genuine human 
being, and not a lay figure. One of the best and most 
individual portraits is that of Barto Rizzo, the con- 
spirator. He is the type of the man who cares for his 
own way, and who will sacrifice a cause to his own 
prejudices ; yet he is honest and energetic, if untract- 
able and perverse, and doing more mischief than 
good. Luighi, the spy, is also an excellent sketch of 
a supple Italian, with a turn for roguery, and yet 
capable of honesty when his heart is touched. The 
first scene between Luighi and Barto Rizzo is a 
comedy containing the germs of a tragedy, which is 
worked out to the sorrowful end. Vittoria has been 
chosen to make her debut at La Scala, in an opera 
written by her lover, Count Carlo Ammiani, which is 
full of revolutionary meaning, but so veiled that it 
has passed the Censorship ; but in the end she is to 
sing a patriotic song, not set down in the libretto, 
which is to be the signal for the insurrection in 
Milan. There are signals all over the country, by 
which the rising is to be simultaneous. All is 
arranged, and all is going well, when Vittoria recog- 
nizes some English visitors, her old English friends, 
and their brother Wilfred, now an Austrian officer. 
In her desire to save them from the terror and 
confusion of the outbreak, she writes a letter of 
warning to Wilfred, not unlike the famous one sent 
in the Guy Fawkes conspiracy, and which, according 
to popular tradition, led to the discovery of the plot. 
This comes to the knowledge of Barto Rizzo, who 
takes his own measures to secure the letter, and 

148 



on Vittoria 

having read it, he denounces Vittoria as a traitress. 
The rising is put off ; the whole plan is thrown into 
confusion some wishing to go on, others to draw 
back. Signer Antonio Pericles, the Greek fanatic 
for music, whom the readers of " Emilia in England " 
have met before, institutes a small plot of his own, to 
have her carried off to an Austrian fortress, where 
she will be kept safe and out of mischief. There is 
much complication about this little plot, and it has 
fibres which extend far and wide, and eventually it 
has serious results. The Austrian authorities are on 
the alert, the city is in a ferment. Vittoria appears, 
carries the house by storm, sings the patriotic song, 
and, rousing the people to madness, she has to be 
smuggled out of the city, for the Austrians dare not 
seize her; but the insurrection that had been planned 
for that night has collapsed. Vittoria wanders about 
in the most perplexing manner, finding herself in 
Turin with Charles Albert, following his army, 
helping the wounded on the field of battle, carried 
off once more by the amusing Signor Pericles, whose 
distraction at the carelessness with which she risks 
the loss of her voice is a comic relief. She meets 
her lover, and has an interview with him on a 
battle-field. Then she is spirited away again Barto 
Rizzo doing mischief all the time, and other enemies 
and false friends working at cross-purposes. There 
is an excellent and spirited account of the campaign 
the brief success, the bright hopes, the final failure. 
Carlo and Vittoria are married, live together a few 
happy months, and then in another unsuccessful 

149 



Geraldine Endsor Jcwsbury on Vittoria 

conspiracy Carlo falls a victim to the insane suspi- 
cion of Barto Rizzo. Wilfred Pierson, who has done 
good service as a patient ass, marries the Austrian 
lady to whom he was betrothed. Vittoria lives like 
a heroine, and brings up her young son to be a hero, 
and the curtain drops on the end of the first Italian 
deliverance in 1858. The book is well and carefully 
written, though the affectations of style and speech 
are many and various. There is an air of effort, 
which gives a sense of fatigue to the reader, greater 
even than the marches and counter-marches, the 
journeys, flights, and returns ; but the book is a piece 
of good and honest hard work. For such as care to 
hear about the state of Italy and the Italians in the 
last years of Austrian rule, " Vittoria " will be a book 
they can read. 



150 



nan 



ere, 



THE ADVENTURES OF HARRY 
RICHMOND 



XV 
THE DAILY NEWS 

ON 

THE ADVENTURES OF HARRY 
RICHMOND 

[From The Daily News, No. 7963, p. 2, November 6, 1871.] 

MR. GEORGE MEREDITH'S new novel, " The Adven- 
tures of Harry Richmond " (London : Smith, Elder & 
Co.), is a remarkable book. Deep thoughts all aglow 
with physical colour, an elliptical power of language 
which is sometimes betrayed into obscurity, cynicism 
tempered by a large-hearted sympathy with human 
failure these are the usual characteristics of Mr. 
George Meredith's works ; but in " Harry Rich- 
mond " he has expressed his genius with unwonted 
clearness, and, under the guise of a romance, has 
worked out a careful study in moral physiology. 
Mr. Roy Richmond inherits kingly vices and kingly 
graces from a Royal father ; had he inherited his 
father's rank in life he would have outdone him in 
courtliness and profligacy. There are sparks of 
chivalry in his nature which redeem some of its mire, 
but these he probably derived from his mother, who 
was not Royal. In Andersen's quaint fable the 

153 



The Daily News 



inappropriate yearning of the snow-man to the fire- 
stone is explained at the former's dissolution by the 
fact of his having had a fire shovel for backbone. 
" ' That's what moved within him/ said the yard dog," 
and what moved within Mr. Roy Richmond was a 
perverse leaning towards the insignia of a rank that 
was his by law of blood only. To lord it graciously 
over his fellow-creatures, to enjoy pleasure by right, 
to shine, chief gaud in a pageant such was his 
ambition, and to it he sacrificed all man's highest 
nobility. Poets and novelists have delighted in 
examples of occult sympathy with ancient phases 
of existence. We are told of gipsy girls trained to 
luxurious lives who flit from their palace balconies to 
gain the warmth of the fires that scar green lanes, 
and we have numerous works of fiction where the 
finer and more delicate qualities of high lineage lend 
grace to careers weighed by oppression and disaster ; 
but Mr. Meredith's idea is as original as it is power- 
fully expressed. He shows in Roy Richmond the 
canker of hereditary vices unobscured by the splendour 
of hereditary pride of place. Inheriting a grand 
manner and a moral nature decayed to the core, he 
fares ill in the work-a-day world of simple, manly 
truth and self-relying toil. There is a scenic glamour 
in him for most women and for many men, but the 
reader can criticise the tawdry reality and estimate 
at its full strength the contrast afforded to it by 
rough Squire Beltham. These two men, differing as 
rock and quicksand, are the real heroes of the book. 
As single studies of character each would have been 

154 



on The Adventures of Harry Richmond 

admirable, but brought into direct antagonism they 
are masterpieces. The vigour of the one delineation 
never flags, the minute touches that go to make up 
the other never lose their delicacy. The only blot 
in the treatment of the old squire is his abrupt 
departure from the scene. It is as if a window were 
suddenly shut and a blast of healthy sea air walled 
out. Such a man's death would have been as charac- 
teristic as his life. Ottilia also secedes from the 
story in an unsatisfactory manner. Her first appear- 
ance is brilliant and picturesque she is an Undine 
piquant with worldly wit. Carried to the end, she 
would have been an excellent foil to English Janet 
Ilchester ; but she is gone as suddenly as if she were 
in truth a water sprite vanishing in foam, and she 
only reappears in the last act of the story a sort of 
fable of herself a beneficent shadow whose mission 
it is to join hands and invoke blessings on the prin- 
cipal character, like the good fairy, beautiful but 
misty, in a transformation scene. Possibly the author 
had not the power nor the patience to tell much of 
this prismatic nature. Ottilia was one of those 
women whom men love passionately and know very 
little about. Once in a life a man may see such a 
face in lonely glimpses ; hear such a voice a music 
broken by long pauses of absence. She creates a 
tropical storm in his imagination ; he gives her his 
dreams, thinks he must die for want of her, and lives 
to take a Janet Ilchester to wife, Janet is of the 
type most Englishmen desire to have their wives, 
although human weakness may lead their erring 

155 



The Daily News on Harry Richmond 

fancy towards an Ottilia. We have no space to 
dilate on Janet's excellently drawn if not super- 
attractive portrait, nor to do more than hint of the 
exquisite sketch of the gipsy Kiomi. The book 
abounds in varied and incisive descriptions of cha- 
racter. Not a page can be read carelessly; its 
profound philosophy, its almost excess of subtlety 
command attention and generate thought, while the 
sensitiveness to nature's beauties which vibrates like 
a passion throughout the work, and the deep under- 
glow of its human sympathy, complete the attrac- 
tions of a book in every sense remarkable. 



156 



XVI 
RICHARD HOLT HUTTON 

ON 

THE ADVENTURES OF HARRY 
RICHMOND 

[From The Spectator, vol. 45, No. 2273, pp. 79-80, January 20, 
1872.] 

THIS book shows originality, wealth of conception, 
genius, and not a little detailed knowledge of the 
world ; the outline of the tale is bold and flowing, 
and the individual figures are painted with con- 
siderable, though unequal skill ; some of the scenes 
are full of force of a very unusual kind, and some 
are touched with a real delicacy and tenderness ; 
and yet it would be far truer to say that it has the 
stuff for half-a-dozen first-rate novels in it, than that 
it is a first-rate novel itself. It wants, in the first 
instance, movement, stream, current, narrative-flow, 
and secondly, something of ease and simplicity of 
style. We are late in reviewing it, but, to say the 
truth, it is a novel which invites delay rather than 
prompts rapidity. In spite of its animation and its 
fullness of life, it is very slow reading, for more than 
one reason. There is an allusiveness and occasionally 

157 



Richard Holt Hutton 



also an affectation of affluent expressiveness about 
the manner of the author which are provoking, and 
induce one to throw the book aside for a time from 
vexation at its assumption. But this is not the 
principal reason for the manifold retardations with 
which the reader meets. These are mainly due to 
the diminishing instead of the increasing interest of 
the tale as it proceeds, and the want of clear relation 
between the different parts of it. The enormous 
expansion of the social finesse in the least interesting 
part, and, perhaps above all, the little sympathy we 
have with the hero of the autobiography who is the 
connecting-thread of the whole, and who, instead of 
making us feel eager about his future, is always 
giving us a foretaste of something uncomfortable 
and embarrassing, destroy our interest in the de- 
velopment. Nor is that strong disposition to post- 
pone the next chapter, which is due to the hero's 
uncomfortable complexities of inconsistent obligation, 
in any way overcome by the strength of the sympathy 
one is made to feel for either of the two young ladies 
between whom he is so good as to divide his affection 
with perplexing equality. One of them (Ottilia), 
indeed, is a beautiful picture, full of clear intellectual 
grace and tender intensity ; but then she is a German 
princess, and so much is made of her position and 
of the disastrous character of the mesalliance she 
is willing to enter into, that she stands almost aloof 
from the story, and you hardly know whether she 
herself does not wish for some imperious call of 
duty to break off the engagement ; certainly there 

158 



on The Adventures of Harry Richmond 

is no glimpse given us, during the long period of 
her lover's absence, of any feeling in her which tends 
to make the reader eager for a happy solution of 
the difficulties of the situation. She descends from 
the clouds, as it were, whenever the hero is in some 
worse than usual trouble, to shed her benign affection 
over him ; but the condescension is made so much 
of, and her retirement behind the veil of the royal 
caste is so complete while it lasts, that one cannot 
catch the smallest possible impatience for the issue 
from the picture of her gracious tenderness and her 
deep but perfectly self-restrained and almost self- 
condemned devotedness ; rather do we feel disposed 
to shrink the more from the issue, feeling a distinct 
prevision of its uncomfortable character. As for the 
other young lady (Janet Ilchester), we never know 
her well enough to feel much interest in the develop- 
ment of what, in her too, presents itself, with less 
intelligible reason, as a curiously self-contained and 
sedate affection. There seems to be a real want of 
consistency too between the rather repulsive picture 
of her as a child, a picture which makes her some- 
what sly and very selfish, and the picture of her 
perfect courage and indomitable resolution as a 
woman ; we do not say that the two pictures might 
not be reconciled, but only that they are not, that 
the graduated shades between them are not supplied, 
and that her love for the hero is so very imperfectly 
painted, that it is hardly possible to feel any sym- 
pathy with her till within a very few pages of the 
close. Thus Harry Richmond, the hero himself, 

159 



Richard Holt Hutton 



being radically uninteresting, and his career full of 
moral awkwardness of that particular kind which 
slightly repel instead of exciting the wistful interest 
of the reader, and as the story of neither of the 
heroines with whom he falls in love supplies in any 
degree the predominant fascination in which he him- 
self is so deficient, we are left to the extraordinary 
cleverness of the conceptions of the tale itself to 
supply the want of current in the plot, a very poor 
substitute, if only on this account, that these con- 
ceptions are full of complexity and finesse which 
rather exhaust the attention when made the principal 
interests, instead of the mere by-play, of a narrative 
otherwise full of forward movement and vivid interest. 
The main intention of the story is to sketch the 
influence of the hollow conceit of great descent on 
the mind of the hero's father, Roy Richmond (sup- 
posed to be the son of a Royal Duke who had 
married privately without acknowledging his mar- 
riage), a man full of tact and resource and social 
ambition (of the poorer kind), a charlatan, in fact, 
of a large and skilful and loveable sort, with every 
gift except those which would make him ashamed 
of playing the actor all his life, and especially of 
playing the actor all his life for so trivial a prize 
as the reluctant recognition of his birth by society 
and the Government; and especially to sketch 
this unreal kind of genius for social magnificence, 
in direct contrast to the solid earthly character of 
a rich, positive, passionate, swearing old English 
squire, the hero's grandfather, Squire Beltham, 

160 



on The Adventures of Harry Richmond 

whose daughter Mr. Roy Richmond has married 
against the Squire's will. Between these contrasted 
personages, father and grandfather, an internecine 
war for the leading influence over the hero's body 
and soul goes on from the first page to the last of 
the book. We cannot say that so far as the stage 
of these contending influences is laid in the mind 
of young Harry Richmond we care very much for 
the issue, at least, after the stage of boyhood is 
past, a period during which the picture of the 
struggle is drawn with great power and effect. But 
the contrast between the airy, grandiose, strategic 
genius of the hare-brained, but half-loveable charlatan 
and castle-builder, with his magnificent belief in his 
own destiny, his really grand play of fancy, and his 
almost disinterested dreams of a great career for 
his son, and the coarse, warm-hearted, violent, narrow, 
successful old English squire, "acred up to his lips, 
consolled up to his chin," and distinguished in his 
class by the real lucidity of his business mind, and 
therefore possessed with a double intensity of loath- 
ing for the hollow, scheming, and visionary pre- 
tensions of his son-in-law, is drawn from beginning 
to end with marvellous power. The two scenes in 
which their first and last battles are fought at the 
very opening of the first volume and towards the 
close of the third are scenes of strange vigour ; and 
if connected together by a plot half as good as are 
several of the links in it, they would have been 
remembered amongst some of the best things in 
English literature. But, as we have intimated, young 

161 M 



Richard Holt Hutton 



Harry Richmond, after he has passed the boyhood 
stage, is not drawn with any real power, while the 
vast detail in which his father's faculty for social 
intrigue and the construction of a grand plot is 
developed, though full of cleverness, becomes utterly 
wearisome before the close. If a little of the minute- 
ness of study spent upon this no doubt very original, 
but still exhaustible conception, had been devoted 
to Janet Ilchester, the story might have been vastly 
improved, both by subtraction and by addition by 
taking away from the superfluity of an over-developed 
idea, and by remedying the deficiency of a figure 
very imperfectly conceived and drawn. Neither Mr. 
Richmond nor Squire Beltham, unquestionably the 
great figures of the piece, can be fairly illustrated 
by any extract we have space to give ; but the mode 
in which the would-be royal charlatan first acquired 
his ascendancy over his son's mind is so finely painted, 
and that, too, within limits possible to a newspaper, 
that we will illustrate it by giving the young man's 
recollections of his father's method of exciting in him 
as a child intense interest in the grander episodes of 
English literature and history : 

" He was never away on the Sunday. Both of us attired 
in our best, we walked along the streets hand in hand; 
my father led me before the cathedral monuments, talking 
in a low tone of British victories, and commending the 
heroes to my undivided attention. I understood very early 
that it was my duty to imitate them. While we remained 
in the cathedral he talked of glory and Old England, and 
dropped his voice in the middle of a murmured chant to 

162 



on The Adventures of Harry Richmond 

introduce Nelson's name or some other great man's : and 
this recurred regularly. ' What are we for now ? ' he would 
ask me as we left our house. I had to decide whether we 
took a hero or an author, which I soon learnt to do with 
capricious resolution. We were one Sunday for Shakspeare ; 
another for Nelson or Pitt. c Nelson, papa,' was my most 
frequent rejoinder, and he never dissented, but turned his 
steps towards Nelson's cathedral-dome, and uncovered his 
head there, and said : ' Nelson, then, to-day ; ' and we went 
straight to his monument to perform the act of homage. 
I chose Nelson in preference to the others because, towards 
bed-time in the evening, my father told me stories of our 
hero of the day, and neither Pitt nor Shakspeare lost an 
eye, or an arm, or fought with a huge white bear on the 
ice to make themselves interesting. I named them occa- 
sionally out of compassion, and to please my father, who 
said that they ought to have a turn. They were, he told 
me, in the habit of paying him a visit, whenever I had 
particularly neglected them, to learn the grounds for my 
disregard of their claims, and they urged him to intercede 
with me, and imparted many of their unpublished adven- 
tures, so that I should be tempted to give them a chance 
on the following Sunday. 'Great Will,' my father called 
Shakspeare, and 'Slender Billy,' Pitt. The scene where 
Great Will killed the deer, dragging Falstaff all over the 
park after it by the light of Bardolph's nose, upon which 
they put an extinguisher if they heard any of the keepers, 
and so left everybody groping about and catching the 
wrong person, was the most wonderful mixture of fun and 
tears. Great Will was extremely youthful, but everybody 
in the park called him ' Father William ; ' and when he 
wanted to know which way the deer had gone, King Lear 
(or else my memory deceives me) punned, and Lady 
Macbeth waved a handkerchief for it to be steeped in the 

163 



Richard Holt Hutton 



blood of the deer; Shylock ordered one pound of the 
carcase; Hamlet (I cannot say why, but the fact was 
impressed on me) offered him a three-legged stool; and 
a number of kings and knights and ladies lit their torches 
from Bardolph ; and away they flew, distracting the keepers 
and leaving Will and his troop to the deer. That poor 
thing died from a different weapon at each recital, though 
always with a flow of blood and a successful dash of his 
antlers into Falstaff ; and to hear Falstaff bellow ! But it 
was mournful to hear how sorry Great Will was over the 
animal he had slain. He spoke like music. I found it 
pathetic in spite of my knowing that the whole scene was 
lighted up by Bardolph's nose. When I was just bursting 
out crying for the deer's tongue was lolling out and quick 
pantings were at his side; he had little ones at home 
Great Will remembered his engagement to sell Shylock a 
pound of the carcase ; determined that no Jew should eat 
of it, he bethought him that Falstaff could well spare a 
pound, and he said the Jew would not see the difference ; 
Falstaff only got off by hard running and roaring out that 
he knew his unclean life would make him taste like pork 
and thus let the Jew into the trick. My father related all 
this with such a veritable matter-of-fact air, and such live- 
liness he sounded the chase and its cries, and showed 
King Lear tottering, and Hamlet standing dark, and the 
vast substance of Falstaff that I followed the incidents 
excitedly, and really saw them, which was better than 
understanding them. I required some help from him to 
see that Hamlet's offer of a three-legged stool at a feverish 
moment of the chase was laughable. He taught me what 
to think of it by pitching Great Will's voice high, and 
Hamlet's very low. By degrees I got some unconscious 
knowledge of the characters of Shakspeare. There never 
was so fascinating a father as mine for a boy anything 

164 



on The Adventures of Harry Richmond 

under eight or ten years old. He could guess on Saturday 
whether I should name William Pitt on the Sunday; for, 
on those occasions, 'Slender Billy,' as I hope I am not 
irreverent in calling him, made up for the dulness of his 
high career with a raspberry-jam tart, for which, my father 
told me solemnly, the illustrious Minister had in his day 
a passion. If I named him, my father would say, ' W. P., 
otherwise S. B., was born in the year so-and-so; now,' and 
he went to the cupboard, 'in the name of Politics, take 
this and meditate upon him.' The shops being all shut on 
Sunday, he certainly bought it, anticipating me unerringly, 
on the Saturday, and, as soon as the tart appeared, we 
both shouted. I fancy I remember his repeating a 
couplet, 

' Billy Pitt took a cake and a raspberry-jam, 
When he heard they had taken Seringapatam.' 

At any rate, the rumour of his having done so at periods 
of strong excitement led to the inexplicable display of fore- 
sight on my father's part." 

That is full of a humour that one regards as almost 
too great to be compatible with a mind so inflated 
with grandiose dreams as that of the would-be royal 
adventurer; but it is one of the most delicate feats 
of ability in the book to make us feel how much of 
true humour and nobility there is combined with 
Mr. Roy Richmond's theatrical, pageant-loving cha- 
racter, and rather ignoble aims. It is impossible to 
think of him without his charlatanerie, and yet it is 
impossible to think of him as not possessing qualities 
both intellectual and emotional too good for his 
charlatan schemes, and this, notwithstanding that 

165 



Richard Holt Hutton 



he himself never seems to have the shadow of a 
distrust of his own aims from the beginning to the 
close of his ambitious career. So completely is the 
man a quasi-royal adventurer, a patron who needs 
very substantial help, a Grand Seigneur who has to 
depend for his hopes on more solidly established 
Grands Seigneurs, a man whose every gift, whose 
elasticity, whose willingness to stoop in order to 
soar the better in future, are manufactured, as it 
were, to suit his dreams and hopes, that we are 
hardly able from the beginning to the end to con- 
ceive of any intellectual or moral nature in the man 
independently of the part he is acting. That he 
loves his son thoroughly, and the woman who re- 
nounced him for her sister's sake, is clear; that he 
can see the absurd side of other people's littlenesses 
is clear also ; but that he could have any intellectual 
conviction, or moral conviction, or political conviction 
outside of the exigencies of his part in life, seems 
almost impossible. It need hardly be observed that 
the conception of such a character is very original, 
and that the insanity in which the author makes it 
terminate, when the bubble bursts, is most truly as 
well as finely conceived. Had but our author spared 
us half the detail ! 

Besides the great charlatan and the great English 
squire, there is much in the story to show the author's 
talent. There are even delicate touches here and 
there, like that which represents the Princess Ottilia 
as recurring to the imperfect English of her child- 
hood's first acquaintance with Harry Richmond, when 

166 



on The Adventures of Harry Richmond 

she asks him, after his declaration of love, whether 
he can be patient, and adds, with tender humour, 
in the precise form of her former childish stiffness, 
" It is my question ; " and again, like that which 
makes the poor old pretender to royal blood recall, 
when all his schemes are in ruins, his promise to 
his old housekeeper that she should have a memorial 
erected to her by his hand, and mutter to himself, 
"Waddy shall have her monument." These deli- 
cacies of delineation are not very common in the 
book, but the few there are are touches of real 
genius. Nor must we forget, in enumerating the 
finer elements of the book, the exquisite episode of 
the child's runaway adventure with the gipsy girl 
Kiomi, a picture almost as faithful and as full of 
colour and humour as any to be found in modern 
literature. 

On the other hand, as we have said, the book 
has great faults. There is a great exuberance of 
dull, protracted, social intrigue, and a terrible flatness 
about the hero himself. But worst of all is the 
want of simplicity of style and the frequently false 
and disagreeable turns given to expression, as when 
the child remembers of his schoolmaster's daughter 
to whom he had been talking of her young lover, 
"she laughed and mouthed me over with laughing 
kisses ; " or again, when he is falling in love with 
the Princess Ottilia, and in answer to a remark of 
hers he is moved to declare his passion, but does 
not, a state of feeling which he thus expresses : 
" Something moved my soul to lift wings, but the 

167 



Richard Holt Hutton on Harry Richmond 

passion sank." There are plenty of illustrations of 
this love of affectation in the style, and still more 
of an apparently affected obscurity of manner, which 
tend to spoil a novel containing the evidence of 
really great powers. 



168 



BEAUCHAMP'S CAREER 



XVII 
JAMES THOMSON 

ON 

BEAUCHAMFS CAREER 

[From Cope's Tobacco Plant t vol. i., No. 75, p. 910, June, 1876.] 

As most of our readers are doubtless aware, this 
novel first appeared in the Fortnightly Review. The 
hero is a young naval officer of good birth, who turns 
Radical, contests an election, writes and lectures, to 
the great disgust and annoyance of his kinsfolk and 
friends, and to his own sore discomfort. We have, 
therefore, keen-witted remarks from persons of all 
shades of opinion on the state of the country, our 
national defences, the various political parties, the 
Church, the press, the aristocracy, the middle class, 
and the people. But our author is not the man to 
let his personages be lost in the quagmire of politics. 
Most enthusiasts exercise a special fascination over 
women ; and when an enthusiast is young, handsome, 
gallant, well-born and well-bred, the fascination is 
prodigious. So we have the story of Nevil Beau- 
champ's loves and love -perplexities told as none but 
George Meredith could tell it, with marvellous 

171 



James Thomson on Beauchamp's Career 

subtleties of insight and expression, and framed in 
scenes such as he alone can suggest in a few swift 
words instinct with spirit and luminous with beauty. 
His books are not popular, being at once too 
abstrusely thoughtful and too waywardly humoristic 
for the vulgar ; and this one our ladies vehemently 
condemn for its miserable catastrophe ; but we can 
cordially commend it and all his works to the medita- 
tive smoker, who grudgeth not several slow whiffs 
over a knotty point when the knot is really worth 
untying for the sake of that which it involves. Nor 
will his sacred calm be perturbed by the bitter speech 
of a married lady : " Two men in this house would 
give their wives for pipes, if it came to the choice. 
We might all go for a cellar of old wine. After forty, 
men have married their habits, and wives are only an 
item in the list, and not the most important." Nor 
will he fear that when his last breath is exhaled it 
shall be said of his relict, as of Louise Devereux : 
"She was married to a pipe; she's the widow of 
Tobacco-ash." 



172 



XVIII 
JAMES THOMSON 

ON 

BEAUCHAMP'S CAREER 

[This article originally appeared in The Secularist, June 3, 1876, 
pp. 364-367, over the well-known initials " B. V." A portion of it was 
reprinted, with slight variations, in "Essays and Phantasies," Reeves 
and Turner, 1881, pp. 289-295, under the title, " A Note on George 
Meredith (On the occasion of ' Beauchamp's Career ')," see footnote 
on p. 179.], 

MR. MEREDITH stands among our living novelists 
much as Robert Browning until of late years stood 
among our living poets, quite unappreciated by 
the general public, ranked with the very highest 
by a select few. One exception must be made to 
this comparison, an exception decidedly in favour of 
the novelists and novel-readers ; for whereas Tenny- 
son, the public's greatest poet, is immeasurably in- 
ferior to Browning in depth and scope and power 
and subtlety of intellect, George Eliot, the public's 
greatest novelist, is equal in all these qualities, save 
perhaps the last, to her unplaced rival, while having 
the advantage in most deservedly popular quali- 
ties, and the clear disadvantage in but one, the 
faculty of describing vigorous or agonistic action. 

173 



James Thomson 



The thoughtful few have succeeded in so far impos- 
ing their judgment of Browning upon the thought- 
less many, that these and their periodical organs now 
treat him with great respect, and try hard to assume 
the appearance of understanding and enjoying him, 
though doubtless their awkward admiration is more 
genuine in the old sense of wonder or astonishment 
than in the modern of esteem or love. But the 
thoughtful few are still far from succeeding to this 
extent in the case of George Meredith. Even literary 
men are unfamiliar with him. For having in some 
freak of fun or irony specified only two of his other 
books, and these among the earliest, on his title- 
page ; leaving etcs. to represent " Farina," " Evan 
Harrington," " The Adventures of Harry Rich- 
mond," " Modern Love, and other Poems," with his 
masterpieces, Emilia in England " and its sequel 
" Vittoria " ; he has reaped the satisfaction of learn- 
ing that many of his well-informed reviewers mani- 
festly know nothing of these obscure writings. For 
the rest, the causes of his unpopularity are obvious 
enough, and he himself, as he more than once lets 
us know, is thoroughly aware of them. Thus he 
interjects in the present work (III. 218-9) : 

" We will make no mystery about it. I would I could. 
Those happy tales of mystery are as much my envy as the 
popular narratives of the deeds of bread and cheese people, 
for they both create a tide-way in the attentive mind ; the 
mysterious pricking our credulous flesh to creep, the familiar 
urging our obese imagination to continual exercise. And 
oh, the refreshment there is in dealing with characters 

174 



on Beauchamp's Career 



either contemptibly beneath us or supernaturally above ! 
My way is like a Rhone island in the summer drought, 
stony, unattractive and difficult between the two forceful 
streams of the unreal and the over-real which delight 
mankind honour to the conjurors ! My people conquer 
nothing, win none ; they are actual, yet uncommon. It is the 
clockwork of the brain that they are directed to set in motion, 
and poor troop of actors to vacant benches / the conscience 
residing in thoughtfulness which they would appeal to ; and if 
you are there impervious to them, we are lost : back I go to 
my wilderness, where, as you perceive, I have contracted 
the habit of listening to my own voice more than is good." 

Not only does he appeal to the conscience residing 
in thoughtfulness ; he makes heavy and frequent 
demands on the active imagination, monstrous 
attempts at extortion which both the languid and 
the sentimental novel-reader bitterly resent, and 
which indeed if they grew common with authors 
(luckily there is not the slightest fear of that !) would 
soon plunge the circulating libraries into bank- 
ruptcy. The late Charles Dickens, who coincided 
at all points with the vulgar taste as exactly as the 
two triangles of the fourth proposition of the first 
book of " Euclid " with one another, carried to per- 
fection the Low-Dutch or exhaustive style of descrip- 
tion, which may be termed artistic painting reduced 
to artful padding, minutely cataloguing all the 
details, with some exaggeration or distortion, humor- 
ous or pathetic, of each to make them more memor- 
able ; so that every item can be checked and verified 
as in an auctioneer's inventory, which is satisfactory 



James Thomson 



to a business-like people. George Eliot with incom- 
parably higher art paints rich and solid pictures 
that fill the eye and dwell in the mind. But George 
Meredith seldom does this, either in the realm of 
Nature or in that of Humanity, though the achieve- 
ment is well within his power, as none of our readers 
can doubt who studied, being fit to study, those 
magnificent selections from his "Vittoria" in the 
Secularist (No. 10, March 4) entitled "Portrait of 
Mazzini" and "Mazzini and Italy." He loves to 
suggest by flying touches rather than slowly elabo- 
rate. To those who are quick to follow his sugges- 
tions he gives in a few winged words the very spirit 
of a scene, the inmost secret of a mood or passion, 
as no other living writer I am acquainted with can. 
His name and various passages in his works reveal 
Welsh blood, more swift and fiery and imaginative 
than the English. And he says in the " Emilia," with 
fair pride of race : " All subtle feelings are discerned 
by Welsh eyes when untroubled by any mental 
agitation. Brother and sister were Welsh, and I 
may observe that there is human nature and Welsh 
nature." If his personages are not portrayed at full 
length, they are clear and living in his mind's eye, as 
we discern by the exquisitely appropriate gesture or 
attitude or look in vivid moments: and they are 
characterised by an image or a phrase, as when we 
are told that a profile of Beauchamp " suggested an 
arrow-head in the up-flight ; " and of Renee : " her 
features had the soft irregularities which run to 
rarities of beauty, as the ripple rocks the light ; 

176 



on Beauchamp's Career 



mouth, eyes, brows, nostrils, and bloomy cheeks 
played into one another liquidly ; thought flew, 
tongue followed, and the flash of meaning quivered 
over them like night-lightning. Or oftener, to speak 
truth, tongue flew, thought followed : her age was 
but newly seventeen, and she was French." And 
as with the outward so with the interior nature of 
his personages. Marvellous flashes of insight reveal 
some of their profoundest secrets, detect the main- 
springs and trace the movements of their most 
complex workings, and from such data you must 
complete the characters, as from certain leading 
points a mathematician defines a curve. So with 
his conversations. The speeches do not follow one 
another mechanically adjusted like a smooth pave- 
ment for easy walking : they leap and break, 
resilient and resurgent, like running foam-crested 
sea-waves, impelled and repelled and crossed by 
under-currents and great tides and broad breezes ; 
in their restless agitations you must divine the im- 
mense life abounding beneath and around and above 
them ; and the Mudie novice accustomed to saunter 
the level pavements, finds that the heaving and 
falling are sea-sickness to a queasy stomach. More- 
over he delights in the elaborate analysis of abstruse 
problems, whose solutions when reached are scarcely 
less difficult to ordinary apprehension than are the 
problems themselves; discriminating countless shades 
where the common eye sees but one gloom or glare, 
pursuing countless distinct movements where the 
common eye sees only a whirling perplexity. As 

177 N 



James Thomson 



if all these heavy disqualifications were not enough, 
as if he were not sufficiently offensive in being 
original, he dares also to be wayward and wilful, 
not theatrically or overweeningly like Charles Reade, 
but freakishly and humoristically, to the open-eyed 
disgust of our prim public. Lastly, his plots are too 
carelessly spun to catch our summer flies, showing 
here great gaps and there a pendent entanglement ; 
while his catastrophes are wont to outrage that 
most facile justice of romance which condemns all 
rogues to poverty and wretchedness and rewards the 
virtuous with wealth and long life and flourishing 
large families. 

In exposing his defects for the many, I have dis- 
covered some of his finest qualities for the thoughtful 
and imaginative few, and need now only summarise. 
He has a wonderful eye for form and colour, especially 
the latter ; a masterly perception of character, a most 
subtle sense for spiritual mysteries. His dialogue is 
full of life and reality, flexile and rich in the genuine 
unexpected, marked with the keenest distinctions, 
more like the bright-witted French than the slow and 
clumsy English. He can use brogue and baragouinage 
with rare accuracy and humorous effect ; witness the 
Irish Mrs. Chump and the Greek Pericles in " Emilia." 
Though he seldom gives way to it, he is great in the 
fiery record of fiery action ; thus the duel in the 
Stelvio Pass, in " Vittoria," has been scarcely equalled 
by any living novelist save by Charles Reade in that 
heroic fight with the pirates in "Hard Cash," He 
has this sure mark of lofty genius, that he always 

178 



on Beauchamp's Career 



rises with his theme, growing more strenuous, more 
self-contained, more magistral, as the demands on 
his thought and imagination increase. His style is 
very various and flexible, flowing freely in whatever 
measures the subject and the mood may dictate. At 
its best it is so beautiful in simplest Saxon, so 
majestic in rhythm, so noble with noble imagery, so 
pregnant with meaning, so vital and intense, that it 
must be ranked among the supreme achievements of 
our literature. A dear friend said well when reading 
" Vittoria " : Here truly are words that if you pricked 
them would bleed. For integral grandeur and origi- 
nality of conception, and for perfectness of execu- 
tion, the heroine of his "Emilia" appears to me the 
sovereign character of our modern fiction : in her he 
has discovered a new great nature, whom he has 
endowed with a new great language. In fine, I am 
aware of no other living English writer so gloriously 
gifted and so little known and appreciated except 
Garth Wilkinson.* 

These general remarks, a poor tribute of grati- 
tude for many hours of exquisite delight, which I 
could not refrain from tendering when opportunity 

* In " Essays and Phantasies " this article breaks off here and 
concludes with the following sentence : 

" In fine, I am aware of no other living English writer so gloriously 
gifted and so little known and appreciated except Garth Wilkinson : 
and Garth Wilkinson has squandered Jais superb genius in most futile 
efforts to cultivate the spectral Sahara of Swedenborgianism, and, 
infinitely worse, the Will-o'-the-wisp Slough of Despond of Spiritism ; 
while George Meredith has constantly devoted himself to the ever- 
fruitful fields of real living Nature and Human Nature." 

1/9 



James Thomson 



offered, have left me but scant space for special 
notice of George Meredith's last work ; which, like the 
" Vittoria," first appeared in the Fortnightly. Nevil 
Beauchamp is a gallant young naval officer, well- 
born and well-bred, who after service in the Crimea, 
on the west coast of Africa and elsewhere, comes 
home a radical reformer. He has been greatly 
influenced by the works of Carlyle, and now ex- 
periences the personal influence of a Carlylesque 
Dr. Shrapnel, one of the best and kindest of 
men, hated and feared by all Whig and Tory 
respectabilities as a firebrand of revolution and 
anarchy. Beauchamp fights an election for a very 
corrupt constituency (Bevisham, which appears to 
mean Southampton), is beaten, and takes to lectur- 
ing and writing for the people. His political career 
may have been partly suggested by that of Admiral 
Maxse, to whom, being then captain, George Mere- 
dith " affectionately inscribed " his volume of Poems 
fourteen years back. Beauchamp, a fascinating 
enthusiast, with spiritual affinities to Shelley, is 
not so absorbed in politics as to be free from 
the grand passion ; and the story of his loves in 
their ravelling and unravelling is the artistic glory 
of the book, where it must be read at full length 
to be appreciated. The Secularist must concern 
itself rather with the political and social sketches 
and discussions, which are full of keen wit 
and independent thought. I regret that there is 
space only for some brief extracts. How true is 
this ! 

180 



on Beauchamp's Career 



" Corn Law Repeal, the Manchester flood, before which 
time Whigs were, since which they have walked like 
spectral antediluvians, or floated as dead canine bodies 
that are sucked away on the ebb of tides and flung back 
on the flow, ignorant whether they be progressive or 
retrograde." 

Here is a morning view of Mr. Timothy Turbot, 
Irish orator and journalist, attached to Liberalism 
and devoted to Whisky : 

"Beauchamp beheld a middle-sized round man, with 
loose lips and pendant indigo jowl, whose eyes twinkled 
watery, like pebbles under the shore-wash, and whose 
neck-band needed an extra touch from fingers other than 
his own." 

Tim looks on politics like the philosopher he 
is : 

" Politics, Commander Beauchamp, involves the doing 
of lots of disagreeable things to ourselves and our relations ; 
it's positive. I'm a soldier of the Great Campaign [Anti- 
Corn-Law] : and who knows it better than I, sir ? It's 
climbing the greasy pole for the leg o' mutton, that makes 
the mother's heart ache for the jacket and the nether 
garments she mended neatly, if she didn't make them. 
Mutton or no mutton, there's grease for certain ! " 

Equally philosophical are his views of candi- 
dates : 

"Well, commander, well, sir, they say a candidate's 
to be humoured in his infancy, for he has to do all the 
humouring before he's many weeks old at it \ only there's 

181 



James Thomson 



the fact he soon finds out he has to pay for his first 
fling, like the son of a family sowing his oats to reap his 
Jews . . . The address was admirably worded, sir, I 
make bold to say it to your face; but most indubitably 
it threatened powerful drugs for weak stomachs, and it 
blew cold on votes, which are sensitive plants like nothing 
else in botany ... I repeat, my dear sir, I repeat, the 
infant candidate delights in his honesty, like the babe in 
its nakedness, the beautiful virgin in her innocence. So 
he does, but he discovers it's time to wear clothes in a 
contested election. And what's that but to preserve the 
outlines pretty correctly, whilst he doesn't shock and 
horrify the sight? A dash of conventionalism makes 
the whole civilised world kin, ye know that's the truth. 
You must appear to be one of them for them to choose 
you." 

Nevil Beauchamp quotes Dr. Shrapnel on the 
Tories : 

"He compares them to geese claiming possession of 
the whole common, and hissing at every foot of ground 
they have to yield. They're always having to retire and 
always hissing. ' Retreat and menace,' that's the motto for 
them." 

Nevil speaks of the clergymen of our very dear 
State Church : 

" The Protestant parson is the policeman set to watch 
over the respectability of the middle-class. He has sharp 
eyes for the sins of the poor. As for the rich, they support 
his church ; they listen to his sermon to set an example : 
discipline, colonel. You discipline the tradesman, who's 

182 



on Beauchamp's Career 



afraid of losing your custom, and the labourer, who might 
be deprived of his bread. But the people ? It's put down 
to the wickedness of human nature that the parson has not 
got hold of the people. The parsons have lost them by 
senseless Conservatism, because they look to the Tories 
for the support of their Church, and let the religion run 
down the gutters. And how many thousands have you 
at work in the pulpit every Sunday? I'm told the dis- 
senting ministers have some vitality . . . And these thirty 
or forty thousand call the men that do the work they 
ought to be doing demagogues. The parsonry are a 
power absolutely to be counted for waste, as to progress." 

This is not a bad observation : 

" Tory and Radical have an eye for one another, which 
overlooks the Liberal at all times except when he is, 
as they imagine, playing the game of either of them." 

Stukely Culbrett, old Tory and cynic, delivers 
himself : 

" Look here, Nevil, I beg to inquire what Dr. Shrapnel 
means by 'the people.' We have in our country the 
nobles and the squires, and after them, as I understand 
it, the people : that's to say, the middle-class and the 
working-class fat and lean. I'm quite with Shrapnel 
when he lashes the flesh-pots. They want it, and they 
don't get it from ' their organ,' the Press. I fancy 
you and I agree about their organ; the dismallest organ 
that ever ground a hackneyed set of songs and hymns 
to madden the thoroughfares. It's the week-day Parson 
of the middle-class. They have their thinking done for 
them as the Chinese have their dancing. But, Nevil, 

183 



James Thomson 



your Dr. Shrapnel seems to treat the traders as identical 
with the aristocrats in opposition to his 'people.' The 
traders are the cursed middlemen, bad friends of the 
1 people,' and infernally treacherous to the nobles till 
money hoists them. It's they who pull down the country. 
They hold up the nobles to the hatred of the democracy, 
and the democracy to scare the nobles. One's when they 
want to swallow a privilege, and the other's when they want 
to ring-fence their gains." 

Dr. Shrapnel writes of our royalty and loyalty 
and our Church : 

"Where kings lead, it is to be supposed they are 
wanted. Service is the noble office on earth, and where 
kings do service let them take the first honours of the 
State : but the English middle-class, which has absorbed 
the upper and despises, when it is not quaking before it, 
the lower, will have nothing above it but a rickety ornament 
like that you see on a confectioner's twelfth-cake. This 
loyalty smacks of a terrible perfidy. Pass the lords and 
squires . . . their hearts are in their holdings ! For the 
loyalty of the rest of the land, it is the shopkeeper's 
loyalty, which is to be computed by the exact annual 
sum of his net profits. It is now at high tide. It will 
last with the prosperity of our commerce. Let commercial 
disasters come on us, and what of the loyalty now paying 
its hundreds of thousands, and howling down questioners ? 
In a day of bankruptcies, how much would you bid for the 
loyalty of a class shivering under deprivation of luxuries, 
with its god Comfort beggared ? Ay, my Beauchamp, ay, 
when you reflect that fear of the so-called rabble, i.e. the 
people, the unmoneyed class, which knows not Comfort, 
tastes not of luxuries, is the main component of their noisy 

184 



on Beauchamp's Career 



frigid loyalty, and that the people are not with them but 
against, and yet that the people might be won by visible 
forthright kingly service to a loyalty outdoing theirs as the 
sun the moon ; ay, that the people verily thirst to love and 
reverence ; and that their love is the only love worth having, 
because it is disinterested love, and endures, and takes heat 
in adversity, reflect on it and wonder at the inversion of 
things ! So with a Church. It lives if it is at home with 
the poor. In the arms of enriched shopkeepers it rots, 
goes to decay in vestments vestments ! flakes of mummy- 
wraps for it ! or else they use it for one of their political 
truncheons to awe the ignorant masses : I quote them. 
So. Not much ahead of ancient Egyptians in spirituality 
or in priestcraft! They call it statesmanship. O for a 
word for it ! Let Palsy and Cunning go to form a word. 
Deadmanship, I call it." 

The same dreadful Dr. writes of creeds and 
systems : 

"Professors, prophets, masters, each hitherto has had 
his creed and system to offer, good mayhap for the term, 
and each has put it forth for the truth everlasting, to drive 
the dagger to the heart of time, and put the axe to human 
growth ! that one circle of wisdom issuing of the ex- 
perience and needs of their day, should act the despot 
over all other circles for ever I ... The creed that rose 
in heaven sets below ; and where we had an angel we 
have cloven-feet and fangs. Ask how that is ! The creed 
is much what it was when the followers diverged it from 
the Founder. But humanity is not where it was when that 
creed was food and guidance. Creeds will not die not 
fighting. We cannot root them up out of us without blood. 
Ours, my Beauchamp, is the belief that humanity advances 

185 



James Thomson 



beyond the limits of creeds, is to be tied to none. We 
reverence the Master in his teachings ; we behold the 
limits of him in his creed and that is not his work. We 
truly are his disciples, who see how far it was in him to do 
service ; not they that make of his creed a strait-jacket for 
humanity." 

Mr. Blackburn Tuckham, a staunch young Tory, 
relates part of an interview with Shrapnel : 

"I happened, casually, meaning no harm, and not 
supposing I was throwing a lighted match on powder, to 
mention the word Providence. I found myself imme- 
diately confronted by Shrapnel overtopped, I should 
say . . . He began rocking over me like a poplar in a 
gale, and cries out : ' Stay there ! away with that t Pro- 
vidence? Can you set a thought on Providence, not 
seeking to propitiate it? And have you not there the 
damning proof that you are at the foot of an Idol ? ' . . . 
And he went on with : ' Ay, invisible,' and his arm 
ohopping, ' but an Idol ! an Idol ! ' I was to think of 
' nought but Laws.' He admitted there might be one 
above the Laws. ' To realise him is to fry the brains in 
their pan,' says he, and struck his forehead a slap." 

Let us escape from the heated atmosphere and 
narrow rooms of controversy, for one large draught 
of open air in the temple not made with hands. 
In the " Mazzini " selection we saw how George 
Meredith portrayed a great man, in the "Mazzini 
and Italy " how he imaged an almost mortal national 
agony ; let us now see how he pictures nature at her 
grandest. We have had a noble Titian and a weird 

1 86 



on Beauchamp's Career 



Rembrandt or Diirer, let us now have a glorious 
agrial Turner. Nevil Beauchamp and Rene'e, with 
her brother and another lady, being in Venice, hire 
a big Chioggian fishing-boat to sail into the gulf at 
night, and return at dawn, and have sight of Venice 
rising from the sea : 



"He was at first amazed by the sudden exquisite 
transition. Tenderness breathed from her, in voice, in 
look, in touch ! for she accepted his help that he might 
lead her to the stern of the vessel, to gaze well on setting 
Venice, and sent lightnings up his veins ; she leaned 
beside him over the vessel's rails, not separated from him 
by the breadth of a fluttering riband. Like him, she 
scarcely heard her brother when for an instant he inter- 
vened, and with Nevil she said adieu to Venice, where 
the faint red Doge's palace was like the fading of another 
sunset north-westward of the glory along the hills, Venice 
dropped lower and lower, breasting the waters, until it 
was a thin line in air. The line was broken, and ran in 
dots, with here and there a pillar standing on opal sky. At 
last the topmost campanile sank. 

"The breeze blew steadily, enough to swell the sails 
and sweep the vessel on smoothly. The night air dropped 
no moisture on deck. 

"Nevil Beauchamp dozed for an hour. He was 
awakened by light on his eyelids, and starting up beheld 
the many pinnacles of grey and red rocks and shadowy 
high white regions at the head of the gulf waiting for 
the sun; and the sun struck them. One by one they 
came out in crimson flame, till the vivid host appeared 
to have stepped forward. The shadows on the snow-fields 

187 



James Thomson on Beauchamp's Career 

deepened to purple below an irradiation of rose arid pink 
and dazzling silver. There of all the world you might 
imagine gods to sit. A crown of mountains endless in 
range, erect, or flowing, shattered and arid, or leaning in 
smooth lustre, hangs above the gulf. The mountains are 
sovereign Alps, and the sea is beneath them. The whole 
gigantic body keeps the sea, as with a hand, to right and 
left. 

" Nevil's personal rapture craved for Rene'e with the 
second long breath he drew ; and now the curtain of her 
tent-cabin parted, and greeting him with half a smile, she 
looked out. The Adriatic was dark, the Alps had heaven 
to themselves. Crescents and hollows, rosy mounds, white 
shelves, shining ledges, domes and peaks, all the towering 
heights were in illumination from Friuli into farthest Tyrol ; 
beyond earth to the stricken sense of the gazers. Colour 
was stedfast on the massive front ranks ; it wavered in 
the remoteness, and was quick and dim as though it fell 
on beating wings ; but there too divine colour seized and 
shaped forth solid forms, and thence away to others in 
uttermost distances where the incredible flickering gleam 
of new heights arose, that soared, or stretched their white 
uncertain curves in sky like wings traversing infinity. 

" It seemed unlike morning to the lovers, but as if night 
had broken with a revelation of the kingdom in the heart 
of night. While the broad smooth waters rolled unlighted 
beneath that transfigured upper sphere, it was possible to 
think the scene might vanish like a view caught out of 
darkness by lightning. Alp over burning Alp, and around 
them a hueless dawn ! " 



1 88 



THE EGOIST 



XIX 

WILLIAM ERNEST HENLEY 

ON 

THE EGOIST 

[From The Academy^ No. 394, New Issue, p. 369, November 22, 1879.] 

IN " The Egoist " the author of " Harry Richmond " 
and " The Ordeal of Richard Feverel " has produced 
a piece of literature unique of its kind. He has 
nothing to learn of comedy in the abstract ; he 
proved that long ago in the brilliant fragment on the 
comic spirit and its uses read by him at the Royal 
Institution! But it is a far cry from a proper under- 
standing oPeemedy to an artistic exemplification of 
its function and capacities, and they are very few 
who have attempted the journey with success. Mr. 
Meredith is indisputably of their number. His book 
is fairly described as a Comedy in Chapters, for it 
has the same intention and the same relation to 
actuality and human life as the master-works of 
Moliere. It is an epitome in narrative of a certain 
well-thumbed chapter in the great Book of Egoism 
the chaptgr treating of the egoist in love, the egoist 
as he appears" and is in his relations with woman ; 

191 



William Ernest Henley 



and in the figure of its hero, Sir Willoughby Patterne, 
Mr. Meredith has summed up enough of human 
nature to make it typical and heroic. Of course 
Sir Willoughby's story is as conventionally told as 
Alceste's own. Its personages are not human beings, 
but compendiums of humanity ; their language is not 
that of life and society pure and simple, but that 
of life and society as seen and heard through the 
medium of comedy ; the atmosphere they breathe is 
as artificially rare as that of Orgon's parlour. To 
live with them you must leave the world behind, 
and content yourself with essences and abstractions 
instead of substances and concrete things ; and you 
must forget that such vulgar methods as realism and 
naturalism ever were. Thus prepared, you will find 
"The Egoist," as far as its matter is concerned, a 
veritable guide to self-knowledge and a treatise on 
the species of wonderful value and comprehensive- 
ness. As to its manner, that is a very different thing. 
I can well believe that there are many who will read 
" The Egoist " with impatience and regret, and many 
more who will not read it at all. To prepare one's 
self for its consideration with the " Imposteur " and 
" L'Ecole des Femmes " is a mistake. Mr. Meredith's 
style, it seems to me, has always been his weak point. 
Like Shakspere, he is a man of genius, who is a 
clever man as well ; and he seems to prefer his clever- 
ness to his genius. It is not enough for him to 
write a book that is merely great ; his book must 
also be brilliant and personal, or it is no book to 
him. It may be that in " The Egoist " his reckless 

192 



on The Egoist 

individuality is less ill seen than in " Beauchamp " 
or " Emilia " ; it may be that, as the inventor of a 
literary genre, he may insist on being criticised 
according to his own canons. Certain it is that in 
his Comedy in Chapters he has asserted himself 
more vigorously, if that were possible, than in any 
other of his works. It is a wilful hurly-burly of wit, 
wisdom, fancy, freakishness, irony, analysis, humour, 
and affectation ; and you catch yourself wishing, as 
you might over Shakspere, that Mr. Meredith were 
merely a great artist, and not so diabolically ingenious 
and sympathetic and well informed and intellectual 
as he is. Speaking for myself, I have read "The 
Egoist " with great and ever-increasing interest and 
admiration. To me it is certainly one of the ablest 
books of modern years. It is full of passion and 
insight, of .wit and force, of truth and eloquence and 
nature. \lts characters, from Sir Willoughby down- 
wards, are "brilliantly right and sound ; it has through- 
out the perfect good breeding of high comedy ; there 
is not a sentence in it, whether of dialogue or analysis 
or reflection, but is in some sort matter for applause. 
All the same, I cannot but believe that its peculiari- 
ties of form are such as must stand inevitably in the 
way of its success. I cannot but believe that, with 
all its astonishing merits, it will present itself to its 
warmest admirers as a failure in art, as art has 
hitherto been understood and practised. Mr. Mere- 
dith has written for himself, and it is odds but the 
multitude will decline to listen to him. Nor, so far 
as I can see, is the multitude alone to blame. 

193 o 



XX 

JAMES THOMSON 

ON 

THE EGOIST. 

[From Copts Tobacco Plant, vol. ii., No. Ii8, January, 1880, 
pp. 430-431, signed " Sigvat."] 

WHEN the Tobacco Pldnt ventured to assert and 
prophesy of George Meredith (May, 1879; article, 
" An Old New Book ") : " He may be termed, accu- 
rately enough for a brief indication, the Robert 
Browning of our novelists ; and his day is bound to 
come, as Browning's at length has come ; " the writer 
little thought that day would come so soon. He 
knew that his author had been labouring nobly for 
about thirty years amidst general neglect, producing 
magnificent works immediately consigned to "that 
oblivion of oblivion which has never had any remem- 
brance ; " and he had read in a paper calling itself 
Literary a review of that same Old New Book, 
" The Ordeal of Richard Feverel," treating it as quite 
a new book, condemning it to the pillory, and pelting 
it there with such rotten eggs as these : " It would 
even be unjust to compare such writings (sic) with the 

194 



James Thomson on The Egoist 

scavengers and dust collectors of ordinary life. The 
latter are necessary to the cleanliness and health of 
the community, while the literary refuse and rubbish, 
etc. ... a long series of paltry dialogue, of a 
surprisingly fervent nature. . * . When the author 
moralises, he does not halt for words, but chucks 
them in anyhow, dragging along with him a string of 
vapid nonsense.? 

With the appearance of " The Egoist " has come 
the dawning of Mr. Meredith's day, after a night so 
long and dreary and dense ; during which, while 
working on undaunted, he must have had sore need 
of Schopenhauer's consolation : " The number of the 
years that elapse between the appearance of a book 
and its acknowledgment gives the measure of time 
that the author is in advance of his age. The entire 
neglect which my work has experienced proves that 
either I was unworthy of my age, or my age of me." 
The first clear light that I saw was reflected from the 
AthencBum (Nov. I, 1879), in almost the first critique 
I had seen evincing the critic's familiarity (a famili- 
arity breeding the very opposite of contempt) with 
all the writer's works. Here are a few rays : " He 
has considered sex the great subject, the leaven of 
imaginative art with notable audacity and insight. 
In his best work he ranks with the world's novelists. 
He is a companion for Balzac and Richardson, an 
intimate for Fielding and Cervantes. ... In the 
world of man's creation his people are citizens to 
match the noblest ; they are of the aristocracy of the 
imagination . . . there is no question but 'The 

195 



James Thomson 



Egoist ' is a piece of imaginative work as solid and 
rich as any that the century has seen [I would except 
a very few others, among them two or three of Mere- 
dith's own, which are greater simply because their 
main theme is greater], and that it is not only one of 
its author's masterpieces, but one of the strongest and 
most individual performances of modern literature." 
This was cheering for a most devout admirer who 
had been watching through a quarter of a century for 
the dayspring, confounded by its prodigious delay. 
Other hills and hillocks caught the new radiance, 
kindling rapidly as the beacon-fires that announced 
the fall of Troy, or those others that signalled the 
approach of the Armada. Thus the Pall Mall: 
" One of the most striking works of our time. . . . 
Of extraordinary merit. . . . The work is so com- 
plete and elaborate as to be indescribable in the 
compass of a newspaper article." Similarly the 
Spectator, Examiner, Daily News, and I know not 
how many more. The last-named reflects : " It will 
be extremely interesting to see how the English 
public will take Mr. George Meredith's last publica- 
tion. The critics Mr. Meredith has /tad always with 
him. But critics cannot make a public, and hence the 
uncertainty and amusement of watching the honest 
English mind over this last highly seasoned dish 
which Mr. Meredith has placed before it. Will the 
plain palates relish the exquisite savours of so 
delicate a wit? Will they appreciate the subtle 
essences he has cunningly distilled into the dish ? " 
I have italicised the words from which I dissent. 

196 



on The Egoist 

Firstly, if by critics the writer means public critics, as 
surely every reader must understand him to mean, I 
ask in amaze, When and where have they shown 
their appreciation of Mr. Meredith ? I know of but 
one class or popular review or magazine which has 
called attention to his works as a whole the British 
Quarterly, and that not until last April. And where 
in the high-class and literary weeklies are to be 
found anything like adequate appreciations of his 
previous books ? Where, in the whole range of our 
periodical literature throughout the last twenty years, 
can one discover the tributes justly due to the magni- 
ficent genius and insight and energy, the wit and 
humour and passion of the 1859 "Richard Feverel,' 
the " Modern Love, and other Poems," the " Emilia 
in England," the " Vittoria," the " Harry Richmond," 
the " Beauchamp's Career " ? Why, even of this last, 
issued in three volumes in 1876, when the author had 
been twenty-five years before the public, I can find no 
notice in the " Contemporary Literature " department 
of the Westminster Review, though I find a whole 
separate article on Ouida's novels ; in the AtJienceum 
it is only noticed as one of a batch of six " Novels of 
the Week ;" in the Academy also as one of a batch 
of six " New Novels," the critic, no less a man than 
Dr. Littledale, expressing himself thus : " Though 
written with much pains, considerable cleverness, and 
occasional sparkle, it exhibits too much effort . . . 
we rise from perusal with the conviction that it is 
not as a novelist that Mr. Meredith can look for a 
permanent name in literature. As critic or essayist 

197 



James Thomson 



there is probably a career open to him." Against 
these I am happy to cite Cope's Tobacco Plant 
(which had not put forth its precious leafage when 
the earlier books appealed to the dear deaf stupid 
public), uttering wisdom at its " Smoke Room Table " 
(June, 1876), in this wise: "We have the story of 
Nevil Beauchamp's love and love-perplexities told as 
none but George Meredith could tell it, with marvel- 
lous subtleties of insight and expression, and framed 
in scenes such as only he can suggest in a few swift 
words, instinct with spirit and luminous with beauty." 
And again : " We can cordially commend it and all 
his works to the meditative smoker, who grudgeth 
not several slow whiffs over a knotty point when the 
knot is really worth untying for the sake of that which 
it involves." Those knots, which neither the clumsy 
public nor the practised critics could untie, Cope, 
smoking, unravelled right deftly ; and Nicotina, who 
is Wisdom, is justified of her children. Truly, if the 
critics have always been devoted to Mr. Meredith, it 
has been with a most secret devotion, never exposed 
to the vulgar eye ; a devotion wonderfully like that of 
Balzac's discreet Napoleonists after Waterloo and the 
Restoration, proved unostentatiously by the capital 
N's and golden bees embroidered on their braces ! (In 
" La Femme de Trente Ans," if I remember rightly). 
Secondly, the critics can make a public, and always 
do make a public if they set themselves to the work ; 
and they do it with the greater ease because the 
English mind is not honest, any more than it is 
intelligent. The English mind follows the fashion ; 

198 



on The Egoist 

purchases what is cried up, irrespective of its real 
value ; applauds what is applauded, without knowing 
the reason why ; puts Shakespeare and Milton con- 
spicuous on its bookshelves, disposes the most pious 
gilt-edged volumes on its drawing-room table, while 
really only enjoying its paper or its novel of the day. 
Thus the critics can make a public that is, a demand 
for any book, to the profit of the author; and, if 
the book be good, to the profit of the community 
also ; for some of the volumes bought for mere 
fashion's sake must meet eyes that will read them 
for true love's sake. 

Turning now to " The Egoist," it may, I think, be 
safely affirmed that Mr. Meredith's genius has never 
shown itself more keen and alert and brilliant, more 
thoroughly master of all the materials requisite for 
the work in hand ; and that his style has never been 
more swift and flexible and subtle for piercing to the 
inmost heart of his personages, through the triple 
armour of conventionality and deception and self- 
deception. As the work is a Comedy, it abounds in 
dialogue ; and I have long deemed Mr. Meredith's 
dialogue not only the best of our age, but unsur- 
passed, if equalled, in our whole literature : it is so 
spontaneous, unexpected, involuntary, diversified by 
the moods, the blood, the nerves, the ever-varying 
circumstances and relations of the interlocutors ; differ- 
ing thus in kind from the dialogue of ordinary novels 
and plays just as the actual interview between any 
two or more persons differs from the suppositious 
interviews which each has mapped out beforehand. 

199 



James Thomson 



Even were there room here, I should not attempt 
a summary of the plot: and as for extracts, the 
whole book is a precious extract, "distilled thought 
in distilled words " ; the studious reader has in 
Meredith, as in Browning, the delight so rare in 
this age of infinite empty scribbling and interminable 
chronicling of the smallest of small beer to find 
every sentence full-charged, "every rift loaded with 
ore," and with ore rich in metal. I must confine 
myself to merely indicating the chief characters, and 
giving one or two flying glimpses of quality. The 
central personage, Sir Willoughby Patterned the 
Egoist, who with characteristic unconsciousness 
furnishes his own title, is, I presume, one of the 
most thoroughly studied and exhibited types in the 
whole range of literature. We get him by heart in 
all his stages and phases, from the highest to the 
lowest, from the surface to the centre ; from his lordly 
magnificence and despotic bountifulness as the idol 
of his little world, to his most abject crouching and 
slinking through the sloughs of falsehood in evasion 
of the scorn or mockery of that very world he detests 
and despises. For there are tragic situations and 
passions here as maipst great gojmedyj as the 
author well remarks at one point : " Jealousy had 
invaded him [Sir W.]. He had boasted himself 
above the humiliating visitation. If that had been 
the case, we should not have needed to trouble 
ourselves much about him. A run or two with the 
pack of imps [the invisible hounds of the hunting 
Comic Muse] would have satisfied us." Then there 

200 



on The Egoist 

is Laetitia Dale, "with a romantic tale on her eye- 
lashes " ; poetical, thoughtful, from girlhood the too 
humble adorer of the Egoist, who graciously permits 
her unsoliciting worship. After many years of hope 
deferred and patient suffering, she is an old woman 
of thirty, with her eyes at length sorely opening or 
opened ; "she is coming three parts out of her shell, 
and wearing it as a hood for convenience." There 
is Clara Middleton, "dainty rogue in porcelain," 
the second betrothed of the Egoist, whose first 
betrothed, " the racing cutter," ran away and married 
another just before the appointed day. Clara is 19 
to Sir W.'s 33, and her desperate struggles to 
get free from the engagement occupy a large 
portion of the book. There is Vernon Whitford, 
"the lean long- walker and scholar, Phoebus Apollo 
turned fasting friar " ; who, drenched in a storm, 
"looked lean as a fork with the wind whistling 
through the prongs." He is Sir W.'s poor cousin 
and secretary ; high-minded, austere, reticent ; young, 
but with a sad past somewhat like that of George 
Warrington in " Pendennis." But in the end he 
burns out gloriously transfigured. He says of 
Clara, "She gives you an idea of the Mountain 
Echo." There is Horace de Craye, colonel in the 
Guards, handsome, ready-witted, Norman-Irishman, 
who says and does most excellent things, and plays 
an active part in the intrigue. There is Dr. Corney, 
also Irish, and a little more so, who drives Vernon 
demented by his eulogy of Clara : " I'll not call her 
perfection, for that's a post, afraid to move. But 

201 



James Thomson 

she's a dancing sprig of the tree next it. Poetry's 
wanted to speak of her. I'm Irish and inflammable, 
I suppose, but I never looked on a girl to make 
a man comprehend the entire holy meaning of the 
word rapturous like that one. . . . But you're a 
Grecian, friend Vernon. Now, couldn't you think 
her just the whiff of an idea of a daughter of a 
peccadillo goddess ? " (Compare the delicate grada- 
tions of the Irishry, in part intentional, in diction 
and thought of the aristocratic guardsman and the 
jolly doctor, with the Cork brogue broad enough to 
hang your hat on of Mrs. Chump in "Emilia in 
England.") There is Crossjay, with whom Vernon 
charges himself, son of a very poor relative of Sir W., 
Capt. Patterne of the Marines ; " a rosy-cheeked, 
round-bodied rogue of a boy of twelve, with the 
sprights of twelve boys in him, who fell upon meats 
and puddings, and defeated them, with a captivating 
simplicity in his confession that he had never had 
enough to eat in his life. . . . Subsequently he told 
his host and hostess that he had two sisters above 
his own age, and three brothers and two sisters 
younger than he : ' All hungry ! ' said the boy. 
His pathos was most comical." Crossjay is "real 
grit," and is of first-rate importance in the plot. 
There is Mrs. Mountstuart Jenkinson, the rich widow, 
kindly, but with a prompt, keen tongue, responsible 
for the character-definitions above quoted : " Her 
word sprang out of her. She looked at you, and 
forth it came ; and it stuck to you, as nothing 
laboured or literary could have done." While grand 

202 



on The Egoist 

phrases are mouthing round about Sir W. on the 
festival of his majority, she says, " You see he has 
a leg." There are two maiden aunts, mere amiable 
echoes and shadows of their idol the Egoist ; and 
two titled ladies of the county, representatives of the 
inquisitive and tattling world. Lastly, there is the 
Rev. Dr. Middleton, the widowed father of Clara, 
a scholar with an independent fortune, whose strength 
and weakness is love of good living. He is of the 
family of Drs. Folliott and Oppimian, with whom 
you may have excellent converse in the " Crotchet 
Castle" and "Gryll Grange" of the humorous and 
caustic T. L. Peacock ; but he develops robust indivi- 
dual characteristics. He pronounces upon another: 
" He is a fine scholar, but crochety, like all men 
who cannot take their Port." He can take his Port ; 
and Port can take him (not overtake him, mind), 
as Sir W. discovers, and uses it with splendid 
effect on the doctor, with terrible recoil upon poor 
Clara. The richest chapter for jolly humour (I 
speak not of the subtle and recondite humour) in 
the whole work is the second of Vol. II., "An 
Aged and a Great Wine " : the gradual mellowing, 
within the limits of clerical decorum, of the doctor 
under the influence of this, administered by the 
astute and patient designing Egoist, is unsurpass- 
able. I must quote a little, to gain for this scanty 

notice the benediction, "All's well that ends well " : 

> 

T 

SIR W. " I am going to my inner cellar." DR. M. 
" An inner cellar ! " " Sacred from the butler. . . . My 

203 



James Thomson 



cellars are worth a visit." "Cellars are not catacombs. 
They are, if rightly constructed, cloisters, where the bottle 
meditates on joys to bestow, not on dust we misused ! Have 
you anything great?" "A wine aged ninety." "Is it 
associated with your pedigree, that you pronounce the age 
with such assurance ? " " My grandfather inherited it." 
Your grandfather, Sir W., had meritorious offspring, not to 
speak of generous progenitors. What would have happened 
had it fallen into the female line ! I shall be glad to 
accompany you. Port ? Hermitage ? " " Port." " Ah ! 
We are in England ! " 

There was a chirrup in the Rev. doctor's tone : " Hocks, 
too, have compassed age. I have tasted senior Hocks. 
Their flavours are as a brook of many voices ; they have 
depth also. Senatorial Port ! we say. We cannot say that 
of any other wine. Port is deep-sea deep. It is in its 
flavour deep; mark the difference. It is like a classic 
tragedy, organic in conception. An ancient Hermitage has 
the light of the antique ; the merit that it can grow to an 
extreme old age ; a merit. Neither of Hermitage nor of 
Hock can you say that it is the blood of those long years, 
retaining the strength of youth with the wisdom of age. To 
Port for that ! Port is our noblest legacy ! Observe, I do 
not compare the wines; I distinguish the qualities. Let 
them live together for our enrichment ; they are not rivals 
like the Idaean Three. Were they rivals, a fourth would 
challenge them. Burgundy has great genius. It does 
wonders within its period ; it does all except to keep up in 
the race : it is short-lived. An aged Burgundy ends with a 
beardless Port. I cherish the fancy that Port speaks the 
sentences of wisdom, Burgundy sings the inspired Ode. Or 
put it, that Port is the Homeric hexameter, Burgundy the 
Pindaric dithyramb. What do you say ? " " The compari- 
son is excellent, sir." " The distinction, you would remark. 

204 



on The Egoist 

Pindar astounds. But his elder brings us the more sustaining 
cup. One is a fountain of prodigious ascent. One is the 
unsounded purple sea of marching billows." " A very fine 
distinction." " I conceive you now to be commending the 
similes. They pertain to the time of the first critics of 
those poets. Touch the Greeks, and you can nothing new : 
all has been said : c Graiis, . . . praeter laudem, nullius 
avaris.' Genius dedicated to Fame is immortal. We, sir, 
dedicate genius to the cloacaline floods. We do not 
address the unforgetting gods, but the popular stomach." . . . 
"Your opinion of the wine is favourable, sir?" "I will 
say this : shallow souls run to rhapsody. I will say, that I 
am consoled for not having lived ninety years back, or at 
any period but the present, by this one glass of your 
ancestral wine." ... A fresh decanter was placed before 
the doctor. He said : " I have but a girl to give ! " He 
was melted. 

Wherewith I commend the good reader to a book 
which he will find as well worth sipping slowly in 
long-lingering relish of its consummate fragrance and 
flavour and cordial potency, as the Rev. doctor found 
that noble nonagenarian Port; Senatorial Port ! deep- 
sea deep ! 



205 



THE TRAGIC COMEDIANS 



XXI 

JOSEPH JACOBS 

ON 

THE TRAGIC COMEDIANS 

[From The Athenaum, No. 2776, January 8, 1881, pp. 49-50.] 

MR. MEREDITH describes his new novel as " a study 
in a well-known story." As we have previously 
informed our readers,* the well-known story is that 
of the tragic fate of Ferdinand Lassalle, the Messiah, 
as he is called, of Social Democracy. His lurid career 
is one of the most remarkable episodes in modern 
history. Equipped with all the culture of his age, 
as he himself boasted, he became the ruling mind 
of the German working classes. In 1863 it was 
commonly said in Germany that the two foremost 
men of the Fatherland were Count Bismarck and 
Ferdinand Lassalle. In the next year, in the prime 
of life, he fell in a duel, brought about by an almost 
insane passion for a young girl under twenty. It 
was natural that a career like this should attract the 
interest of Mr. George Meredith, who has always 
displayed most power in treating of the phenomenal 
(he terms it the " fantastical ") in human nature. 

* Tftt Athen<zum t No. 2769, p. 676, November 20, 1880. 
2O9 P 



Joseph Jacobs 

While his subject is congenial to Mr. Meredith, 
his method of treating it is rather unusual among 
novelists of the first rank. Shakspeare's method 
in the Roman plays is the nearest parallel that 
suggests itself. One of the well-known facts of this 
well-known story is that in 1879 its heroine, Frau 
von Racowitza, published an apologia of the part 
played by her in the tragedy of fifteen years before. 
What Plutarch was to Shakspeare, Frau von Raco- 
witza has been to Mr. Meredith. It was only just 
that in dealing with an historical event recourse 
should be had to historical sources. But some care 
might have been taken to verify the accuracy of 
Frau von Racowitza's account; she confesses that 
she trusts entirely to memory, having kept no diary, 
and the dialogues with which she enlivens her book 
at once become suspect Against her " Elle et lui " 
Herr Kutschbach has published a " Lui et elle," 
entitled " Lassalle's Tod," based in the main on 
some revelations made by Lassalle's literary executor. 
These " Enthiillungen " were equally accessible, yet 
we find no trace of Mr. Meredith's having consulted 
them, though an allusion on p. 74 of the second 
volume indicates that he has read Mr. Ludlow's 
paper in the Fortnightly Review of 1869. Mr. 
Meredith's study of this well-known subject does 
not appear to have been particularly profound, and 
he has been content to follow, step by step, the 
story of Lassalle's death as told by the lady 
who caused it. Every important incident in the 
novel is taken sine grano salis from " Meine 

210 



on The Tragic Comedians 



Beziehungen zu Ferdinand Lassalle." 
says : 



Mr. Meredith 



" Nor is there anything invented, because an addition 
of fictitious incidents could never tell us how she came to 
do this, he to do that." 

But it is difficult to say that incidents have not 
become fictitious when they have been kept in a 
lady's memory for fifteen years. 

But not only is every incident borrowed from this 
somewhat untrustworthy source ; a large part of the 
conversations are adapted from Frau von Racowitza's 
book. Before the lady met Lassalle, she says she 
became interested in him by finding from a common 
friend that Lassalle and she had many ideas in 
common. The conversation in which she learned 
this is given as follows in the two books (we omit, 
in each case, the comments of the author) : 



" Sie kennen Lassalle." 

" Nein." 

" Sie kennen ihn doch ! 
So kann nur eine Dame 
sprechen die Lassalle kennt 
und seine Gedanken theilt." 

" Nein, gewiss nicht ! 
wer ist's denn ? " 

" O pfui ! verleugnen Sie 
ihn nicht ! lassen Sie das 
den kleinen Seelen um uns 
her. Reichen wir uns die 
Hande und sagen wir mit 



" I see you know Alvan." 
"Indeed I do not." 
" Surely you must; where 
is the lady who could talk 
and think as you do without 
knowing Alvan and sharing 
his views ! " 

" But I do not know 
him at all; I have never 
met him, never seen him. 
I am unlikely to meet the 
kind of person." 

"Come, come, let us be 



211 



Joseph Jacobs 



Stolz : wir kennen und lieben 
ihn." 

" Ach was lassen Sie 
mich mit dem langweiligen 
fremden Menschen zufrie- 
den ! Ich kenne ihn nicht. 
Ich gebe Ihnen mein Wort 
meinEhrenwort! Glauben 
Sie mir jetzt ? " 

" Jetzt muss ich es wohl, 
aber dann bedaure ich Sie 
und ihn nur jede Stunde die 
Ihr Euch nicht kennt, die 
Ihr Euch fern bleibt. Denn 
Ihr sind wie fur einander 
geschaffen." 



honest. That is all very 
well for the little midges 
floating round us to say of 
Alvan, but we two can clasp 
hands and avow proudly 
that we both know and love 
the man." 

"Were it true I would 
own it at once, but I repeat 
that he is a total stranger 
to me." 

"Actually?" 

" In honour." 

" You have never met, 
never seen him, never read 
any of his writings ? " 

" Never. I have heard 
his name, that is all." 

"Then I pity him, and 
you no less, while you 
remain strangers, for you 
were made for one another." 



It is fair to add that Mr. Meredith invents the 
phrases which had caused the young officer to think 
Clotilde had known Alvan. But the parallel is 
sufficiently close to merit the name of translation. 
And this occurs continually throughout Mr. Meredith's 
book. We refer our readers to pp. 37-8, 42, 44, 56, 
107-8, 112, 137-40 of the German, as compared with 
pp. 45-6, 80, 87, 102, 138-9, 148, 179-82 of the first 
volume of Mr. Meredith's "study." In the second 
volume it must be granted the parallels are not so 

212 



on The Tragic Comedians 



frequent, and throughout the comments on the con- 
versations and incidents are quite in Mr. Meredith's 
own vein. But such an amount of indebtedness 
surely deserved some more explicit acknowledgment 
than the following sentences at the end : 

"Years later she wrote her version of the story, not 
sparing herself so much as she supposed. Providence and 
her parents were not forgiven. But as we are in her debt 
for some instruction, she may now be suffered to go." 

There is a process familiar to those who have 
studied Latin composition by the name of oratio 
obliqua. Mr. Meredith's "Tragic Comedians" is a 
study in oblique narration ; he has turned the first 
person of his original into the third and added his 
own comments. It accordingly becomes somewhat 
difficult to see what there is in this book to criticize. 
The plot and much of the conversation are due to 
Frau von Racowitza, and the interest its characters 
arouse is as much owing to historical suggestion as 
to the art of the novelist. What remains of Mr. 
Meredith's own is his style, and this, as everyone 
knows, is peculiarly his own. Mr. Meredith has a habit 
of condensing epigrams into adverbs and allegories 
into adjectives, which render his sentences stimulating, 
but at the same time somewhat hard reading. He 
writes, as it were, by flashes of lightning throws out 
a hint where others would indite a paragraph. He 
is sometimes peculiarly happy at hitting off a cha- 
racter in a phrase. " The To-morrower " is his graphic 
way of describing Clotilde's irresolution. We might 

213 



Joseph Jacobs 

attempt to adopt his own method of condensation, 
and call his style the " congested." It is overwrought 
too full of suggestion. As a specimen of it at its 
best a passage may be quoted in which Mr. Meredith 
makes Alvan (or Lassalle) describe the character of 
Bismarck : 

" Yes, Ironsides is a fine fellow ! but he and I may cross. 
His ideas are not many. The point to remember is that he 
is iron on them : he can drive them hard into the density of 
the globe. He has quick nerves and imagination : he can 
conjure up, penetrate, and traverse complications an 
enemy's plans, all that the enemy will be able to combine, 
and the likeliest that he will do. Good. We opine that we 
are equal to the same. He is for kingcraft to mask his 
viziercraft and save him the labour of patiently attempting 
oratory and persuasion, which accomplishment he does not 
possess : it is not in iron. We think the more precious 
metal will beat him when the broader conflict comes. But 
such an adversary is not to be underrated. I do not under- 
rate him; and certainly not he me. Had be been born 
with the gifts of patience and a fluent tongue, and not a 
petty noble, he might have been for the people, as knowing 
them the greater power. He sees that their knowledge of 
their power must eventually come to them. In the mean- 
time his party is forcible enough to assure him he is not 
fighting a losing game at present : and he is, no doubt, by 
lineage and his traditions monarchical. He is curiously 
simple, not really cynical. His apparent cynicism is sheer 
irritability. His contemptuous phrases are directed against 
obstacles : against things, persons, nations that oppose him 
or cannot serve his turn : against his king, if his king is 
restive ; but he respects his king : against your friends' 
country, because there is no fixing it to a line of policy, and 

214 



on The Tragic Comedians 



it seems to have collapsed ; but he likes that country the 
best in Europe after his own. He is nearest to contempt in 
his treatment of his dupes and tools, who are dropped out of 
his mind when he has quite squeezed them for his occasion ; 
to be taken up again when they are of use to him. Hence 
he will have no following. But let me die to-morrow, the 
party I have created survives. In him you see the dam, in 
me the stream. Judge, then, which of us gains the future ! 
admitting that in the present he may beat me. He is a 
Prussian, stoutly denned from a German, and yet again a 
German stoutly denned from our borderers ; and that com- 
pletes him. He has as little the idea of humanity as the sword 
of our Hermann, the cannon-ball of our Frederick. Observe 
him. What an eye he has ! I watched it as we were talk- 
ing : and he has, I repeat, imagination ; he can project his 
mind in front of him as far as his reasoning on the possible 
allows : and that eye of his flashes ; and not only flashes, 
you see it hurling a bolt ; it gives me the picture of a 
Balearic slinger about to whizz the stone: for that eye 
looks far, and is hard, and is dead certain of its mark 
within his practical compass, as I have said." 

It is somewhat difficult to judge this novel "on its 
merits." If we had not read Frau von Racowitza's 
book we might have placed " The Tragic Comedians " 
very high among the brilliant productions with which 
Mr. Meredith has enriched English fiction. And 
certainly readers who are ignorant of the original will 
do well to read Mr. Meredith's adaptation, which is 
as stimulating in style, and at least as lucid in arrange- 
ment, as anything else he has given to the world. 



215 



XXII 
THE DAILY NEWS 

ON 

THE TRAGIC COMEDIANS 

[From The Daily News, No. 10852, p. 3, January 27, 1881.] 

MR. GEORGE MEREDITH may well call the hero and 
heroine of his two latest volumes " The Tragic 
Comedians " (Chapman and Hall). The tragedy of 
the story is profound if the comedy of it is fantastical. 
To turn back from the last chapter, detailing the 
miserable end of an almost insane passion, and read 
again the scene in which the two chief actors in it 
first met, is like taking a survey of human action such 
as may provoke the gods to amazement and scornful 
laughter. The luminous atmosphere of intellectual 
and emotional life in which Alvan and Clotilde meet 
for the first time, the electric flashes their natures 
strike forth in their spiritual contact, and the height 
of sincere passion one of them reaches, and the other 
at least touches through sympathy and attraction, 
form a contrast to the mean and mournful catastrophe 
it was all to end in so striking that it seems to reveal 
human nature under a fresh and most fantastic light. 
That the events are historical, not fictitious, adds to 

216 



The Daily News on The Tragic Comedians 

the excitement of the narration, while it in no way 
lessens our sense of the skill, brilliance, and power of 
the writer who describes them. It is no less the 
worthy work of a student of the comedy of life to 
analyse and explain the strange, abnormal character 
he finds ready to his hand than to build up from 
imaginative sources ideal figures which he moulds to 
his own will. So extraordinary, to use Mr. Mere- 
dith's own word, so incredible is the conduct of the 
two beings who acted and re-acted on each other to 
their common destruction and to the world's loss, 
that were it invented people would reject it as, if 
not quite impossible, certainly too improbable for 
artistic use. Some modification of the apparent 
incongruity may perhaps be sought for in the cir- 
cumstance that this tragic story of the German " Elle 
et Lui " has been taken from the version of " Elle " 
alone. Certain it is that no two people ever appear 
to have stood closer to a great happiness and missed 
it than the Alvan and Clotilde of Mr. Meredith's 
parable. It is true he cannot tell us "how she came 
to do this, he to do that, or how the comic in their 
natures led by interplay to the tragic issue." But he 
has in a wonderful way, and with a command of bril- 
liant language all his own, analysed and commented 
on an episode of life as strange, as mystifying, and as 
interesting as is to be found in the repertory of the 
world's dramas. The personages are few and the 
action brief. Fateful, however, and tragic is the 
story as an old Greek play. 



POEMS AND LYRICS OF THE 
JOY OF EARTH 



XXIII 

MARK PATTISON 

ON 

POEMS AND LYRICS OF THE JOY OF 
EARTH 

[From The Academy t vol. xxiv., No. 585, pp. 37-38, July 21, 
1883.] 

THIS is one of the most remarkable, perhaps the 
most remarkable, of the volumes of verse which have 
been put out during the last few years. But, indeed, 
the name of the author is a sufficient guarantee that 
so it would be ; Mr. George Meredith is known to be 
little given to offering his readers that which is 
common. 

Mr. Meredith is well known, by name, to the widest 
circle of readers the novel-readers. By name, because 
his name is a label warning them not to touch. They 
know that in volumes which carry that mark they 
will not find the comfortable conventionalities and 
paste diamonds which make up their ideal of " life." 
Worse than this, Mr. Meredith's prose requires atten- 
tion an impertinent requirement on the part of a 
novelist. Everybody knows that we go to a novel 

221 



Mark Pattison 



in order that we may occupy a vacant mind without 
giving attention. 

To a higher, and vastly smaller, circle of readers, 
Mr. Meredith's stories "The Ordeal of Richard 
Feverel," "Emilia in England," "Vittoria," "The 
Egoist" are known as creations, singular without 
being eccentric, but whose singularity is marked by 
an imaginative presentment rather than by any 
special attraction of the characters and events pre- 
sented. There is an atmosphere of poetry about 
the doings of his personages which gives us a 
happy fairy-land sensation, even when, as is often 
the case, we do not much care for the doings 
themselves. The circle (a select one) of the readers 
of these novels, know that Mr. Meredith is a poet 
in prose. Perhaps some of them may not know 
that he is a poet in the more usual acceptation of 
the term. Two little ventures of the usual " minor 
poetry " class, some thirty or more years back, had 
the inevitable fate of such volumes, came into the 
hands of but few, and were soon forgotten even by 
them. As Mr. Meredith does not include these 
poems in the list of his works which he has allowed 
to be given on the fly-leaf of the present volume, 
perhaps he is now unwilling to own them, and desires 
to have them regarded as "juvenilia." Any com- 
parison of the present George Meredith with the 
George Meredith who had not yet stamped his 
quality upon " The Shavings (sic) of Shagpat " would 
be waste of labour. Yet I could almost fancy that 
more than one of the pieces in the new volume are 

222 



on Poems and Lyrics of the Joy of Earth 

developments of germs deposited in the earlier epoch 
of thought. 

What is true of a whole poetic career is also true 
of any volume of collected pieces composed at long 
intervals. No one, not even a critic, is always at his 
best. But in poetry we may go further, and say that 
the best of any poet is so rare and costly that it is 
indeed "paucorum horarum." Take, e.g., the six 
volumes of Wordsworth's Poetical Works, and count 
the pieces nay, rather, the lines in which Words- 
worth is at Wordsworth's best. We may strike out 
everything written after 1809, the most of it being 
not only below Wordsworth, but absolutely unworthy 
of him. All that is instinct with vital power in 
Wordsworth might be contained in a volume of much 
less compass than Mr. Matthew Arnold's Selections. 
A few sheets of letterpress would give us all that can 
live of Wordsworth all except the Wordsworthian 
" Self" ; and to distil this essence we must have the 
whole of the nine books of the " Excursion " and the 
whole of the fourteen books of the " Prelude." 

It is, therefore, no disparagement to say of the 
poems in the present volume that they are unequal 
in poetic merit. They all have the Meredithian 
quality, but in varying degrees of perfection. They 
are all out of the same vineyard, but of different 
vintages. To come to details, " Love in the Valley," 
e.g., does not rise in general conception and design 
above the average level of the " minor poet " as we 
know him. For this reason it will probably be one 
of the most popular. It has also the ordinary fault 

223 



Mark Pattison 



of the modern English poetry diffuseness, the beat- 
ing out of a small particle of metal into too thin foil. 
Yet " Love in the Valley " is redeemed from common- 
ness by single strokes which are not within the reach 
of every day, as well as by a vigour of language 
which is Mr. Meredith's own property among all his 
competitors. Take this stanza, descriptive of morning 
light : 

" Happy, happy time, when the white star hovers 

Low over dim fields fresh with bloomy dew, 
Near the face of dawn, that shows athwart the darkness, 

Threading it with colour, like yew berries the yew. 
Thicker crowd the shades as the grave East deepens 

Glowing, and with crimson a long cloud swells. 
Maiden still the morn is, and strange she is and secret ; 

Strange her eyes ; her cheeks are cold as cold sea-shells." 

I do not defend "bloomy" here said of dew. Mr. 
Meredith might have learned the meaning of" bloomy " 
from Milton, who uses it properly of the spray burst- 
ing into leaf in an English April. To apply " bloomy " 
to dew is too like that deplacement of epithet which 
is one of the tricks by which the modern school of 
poets seeks to supply a spurious originality. 

" The Lay (sic) of the Daughter of Hades " is also 
liable to the charge of diffuseness. And it has the 
more serious fault of being a versified treatment of a 
legend provided by the Greek mythology. Because 
the Greek mythology is the most poetical known to 
us, it is natural to conceive that it must be good 
" material " for a poem. It was still possible in 

224 



on Poems and Lyrics of the Joy of Earth 

Milton's day, it was just possible for Gray, to vivify a 
classical myth. Even Gray only appeals to " Delphi's 
Steep," etc., incidentally ; he does not insist on the 
classic theme. In the time in which we live, classical 
personages are too remote from the imaginative 
sphere of all but a score or two of Greek scholars to 
be helps to illusion. The nineteenth-century poetical 
reader knows nothing of Grecian Sicily. It is super- 
adding another difficulty, which is superfluous, to one 
which is inherent in the nature of the case. We have 
to make a separate effort to get together the Greek 
imagery, in addition to the effort which all poetry 
demands of passing beyond the stereotype forms of 
every-day life to the spirit within them. Skiageneia, 
the daughter of Hades, is a thoroughly Burne Jones 
maiden, tall as a poplar, with a " throat " and a wan 
smile, with " redness that streamed through her limbs 
in a flitting glow." 

The piece which gives its character to the volume, 
and raises the whole above the average of the repro- 
ductions of Rossetti with which we are familiar, is the 
first, which is entitled " The Woods of Westermain." 
This piece seizes the imagination with a power which 
the vague and rather featureless " Daughter of Hades " 
does not possess. Many poets have signalled the 
romance that lies in forest depths, " the calling shapes 
and beckoning shadows." No poetical forest has 
surpassed in wealth of suggestion "the woods of 
Westermain." In these woods is no wizardry ; no 
supernatural agents are at work. But if you enter 
them with a poet's eye and a poet's sensibility, you 

225 Q 



Mark Pattison 



may see and hear that natural magic which surpasses 
all the fictitious tales of sorcerers, witches, wood 
gods, of Fauns and Dryads. The poem teaches, not 
didactically for nothing is farther from its form or 
its thought than the inculcation of doctrine how 
what we see depends upon what we are ; how 
transcendent influences are only to be approached 
through the real the transmuted by the soul of the 
seer : 

" Even as dewlight off the rose 
In the mind a jewel sows. 
Look you with the soul you see't" 

The doctrine is old enough; the psychology of 
religion and that of poetry agree in it. Keats's 
Endymion, baffled in the search of the ideal, learns 
to find it in the real. In " the woods of Westermain " 
ordinary woods, peopled only by the squirrel and 
the snake, the green woodpecker and the night-jar 
you may read the whole history of the origin and 
development of things, from the time "when mind 
was mud," " earth a slimy spine, Heaven a space for 
winging tons." It is wholly in your own power 
what you shall make of earth. As you choose to 
look, she is either a dust-filled tomb or radiant with 
the blush of morning. Gaze under, and the soul is 
rich past computing. You must not only look, you 
must put off yourself, sink your individuality, you 
must let her " two-sexed meanings melt through you, 
wed the thought." Your rich reward will not only be 
in the power of understanding, but in a quickening 

226 



on Poems and Lyrics of the Joy of Earth 

joy, the "joy of earth" showered upon you without 
stint. 

" Drink the sense the notes infuse 

You a larger self will find ; 
Sweetest fellowship ensues 
With the creatures of your kind." 

In contrast with the pessimistic tone and despairing 
notes of the modern school, Mr. Meredith offers " a 
song of gladness," and smiles with Shakespere at a 
generation " ranked in gloomy noddings over life." 

Such seems to be the drift of this remarkable 
lyric, remarkable rather for its expression than for its 
contents. Unfortunately, Mr. Meredith's healthy 
wisdom is veiled in the obscurity of a peculiar 
language which makes even his general drift doubt- 
ful, and the meaning of many score lines absolute 
darkness. Some writers, whom it is a fashion to 
admire, are obscure by twisting plain things with 
words that are not plain. They make platitudes into 
verbal puzzles. Mr. Meredith's obscurity proceeds 
from a better motive. He knows that poetry can 
only suggest, and destroys itself if it affirms. And 
as the moods he desires to suggest are remote from 
common experience, so also must the suggestive 
imagery be. Even the English language is inade- 
quate to his requirements, and he tries to eke it out 
by daring compounds. The same resource tried long 
ago by Aeschylus was found to degenerate into 
bombast in a language which lends itself more readily 
to compounds than ours does. In Mr. Meredith's 

227 Q 2 



Mark Pattison 



lines these compounds have seldom the merit of 
being happily formed or of condensing expression. 
If we allow that their use originated in the poverty 
of the existing language, the habit of employing 
them constantly and upon all occasions grows up 
from their trouble-saving convenience. They are 
stopgaps, and fill the place when the sense cannot be 
moulded into words proper without an expenditure of 
time which no modern writer will give. That the 
habit has settled itself upon Mr. Meredith's pen the 
following sample, taken from a very few pages, will 
show. We have poppy-droop ; bronze-orange ; 
swan-wave ; shore-bubble ; rock-sourced ; lost-to- 
light; instant-glancing; iron-resounding; spear-fitted ; 
fool-flushed ; ripple-feathered ; dew-delighted ; foun- 
tain - showers ; stripe - shadowed ; treasure - armful ; 
circle-windsails ; bully-drawlers ; and so on without 
stint or limit. How many in the above collection, 
gathered at random, can be said to recommend them- 
selves by their own elegance, or to be indispensable to 
the sense required, which most do but feebly express ? 
That I may not take an ungracious leave of a 
volume in which may be found so much to interest, I 
give a specimen of the sonnets, of which there are 
some twenty-three in the volume. 

EARTH'S SECRET. 

" Not solitarily in fields we find 

Earth's secret open, though one page is there ; 
Her plainest, such as children spell and share 
With bird and beast ; raised letters for the blind. 
228 



on Poems and Lyrics of the Joy of Earth 

Not where the troubled passions toss the mind, 

In turbid cities, can the key be bare. 

It hangs for those who hither thither fare, 
Close interthreading nature with our kind. 
They hearing History speak of what men were 

And have become, are wise. The gain is great 

In vision and solidity ; it lives. 
Yet at a thought of life apart from her 

Solidity and vision lose their state 

For Earth that gives the milk, the spirit gives." 



THE END 



PRINTED BY WILLIAM CLOWES AND SONS, LIMITED, LONDON AND BECCLES. 



' 



UJL^T. /VUV 2 y 1972, 



PLEASE DO NOT REMOVE 
CARDS OR SLIPS FROM THIS POCKET 

UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO LIBRARY 



Forman, Maurice Buxton 
George Meredith